Becoming a Feedback Warrior

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In my last post, I reasoned that people are not getting enough performance feedback in the workplace today. Although research consistently demonstrates that feedback is a fundamental human need and we desire more of it (even the constructive kind), managers are simply not giving enough of it. This is resulting in a loss of human potential, disengagement, and mediocre results. So what’s the solution?

Managers Must Learn to Embrace Their Warrior Spirit.

Sure, I could start this article with five steps for managers to deliver better feedback. You might read through them and nod your head in approval. You may even say to yourself, “I am going to try to do point number three more often.” Yet, the reality is that you probably wouldn’t make any real changes. Our default operating systems are hardened through years of personal experiences and unconscious adherence to beliefs/values. We can talk all we want about learning new skills; however, if we don’t change our mindset first, we won’t make any lasting shifts in our behavior.

So then…what does it mean to embrace your Warrior Spirit? Let’s first identify what the warrior represents. Warriors have been a necessary part of all cultures and societies throughout the ages. The purpose of a warrior is to face conflict. A warrior is never eager to fight; however, they realize it is sometimes necessary. The warrior is often revered because they take personal risks on our behalf. They may even sacrifice themselves for a greater purpose. The best warriors embody values like duty, loyalty, courage, respect, and integrity.

The Feedback Warrior 2019

While it’s an ancient archetype, it still lives within us all today. Some of us express our inner warrior more often than others, yet we all can learn to bring forward the warrior spirit when needed. This is especially relevant for the modern-day manager. If we learn to become a Feedback Warrior in the workplace, we can unlock potentials in others and inspire superior results.

Let’s take a look at the warrior’s values and how they serve us when delivering feedback:

1.    Duty – Warriors willfully face obstacles because it is their duty. They welcome responsibility and exhibit the discipline necessary to do their job. Likewise, a manager must own their role fully. It is their duty to provide feedback! Ask yourself this…“If not you, then who?” Where is the feedback going to come from? Do you get feedback from peers? Maybe. How about from your direct reports? Not likely. Most of our feedback comes from our supervisors. If you accept the title, own the responsibility as well and think of it as your unconditional duty to give specific, actionable, and timely feedback.

2.    Loyalty – Warriors declare their allegiance to a purpose bigger than themselves. When I served in the U.S. Military, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. As did all my fellow servicemen and women. That oath bound us together, and our loyalty to both common purpose and one another was unwavering.

Managers, today, need to think similarly when working with their teams. A loyal manager thinks of his or her direct reports like a brother or sister. They should feel an allegiance to support them, even giving difficult feedback if necessary, because they genuinely care about them and their success.

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3.    Courage – Conflict is scary because we are uncertain of the potential outcome. Nevertheless, warriors do not shy away from it. They realize that avoidance of conflict often exacerbates the problem and postpones the inevitable. Warriors, instead, train themselves to handle conflict quickly and efficiently.

This does not mean that the warrior does not feel fear. A warrior understands that courage is taking action despite fear. The same applies to managers, today, when delivering feedback. We don’t know how it will be received and the other person may have a strong emotional reaction. However, we have to work with this person, and we don’t want it to jeopardize our relationship. What if we don’t have our facts straight? We may even be perceived as being sexist or racist!

There are many reasons we feel anxiety about giving feedback. A Feedback Warrior will find the courage within themselves to maintain focus on the task and deliver the feedback despite their emotional energy telling them to do otherwise.

4.    Respect – If you visit a traditional Japanese Karate Dojo, you will immediately notice the emphasis placed on respect. Not just respect for the authority (Sensei), but for the art’s lineage, the customs, and for one another as Karateka practitioners. This is to instill a respect for the powerful gift you are receiving in training. With power comes responsibility. Students learn that karate is for self-defense purposes and to use proportional force against a threat. In short, you learn to respect your opponent.

The same goes for managers today. A Feedback Warrior will seek to create feedback conversations that feel dignified and respectful. They deliver constructive feedback in a private setting, never in front of peers where they might cause undue embarrassment. They, also, will invest in countless instances of providing positive feedback beforehand, to create a strong relationship of mutual respect.

Think of your own experiences…we tend to be more open to constructive feedback when it comes from individuals we admire and respect. Feedback Warriors earn their authority to provide others with constructive criticism.

Integrity GNS Quote

5.    Integrity – A warrior always strives to act honorably and understands that having personal integrity is one of the highest measures of one’s honor. Webster defines integrity as 1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, and 2) the quality or state of being complete or undivided. A Feedback Warrior embodies both aspects of the definition when having feedback conversations.

First, integrity is speaking honestly and fairly. Communicate with absolute candor, while also acknowledging that this feedback is your own perception/understanding/ reaction. A Feedback Warrior recognizes that feedback is as much about the giver as it is the receiver. We all have our own lens and biases, which impact our effectiveness at evaluating others’ competency. However, in speaking to your personal truth, you can help to limit defensiveness. For example:

Instead of: “You are not answering my emails in a timely manner. I need you to be more responsive.”

Try: “I’ve noticed that it took several days to get back to me on this important email. When I don’t hear from you in a timely manner, it makes me feel as if we are not on the same page and we may inadvertently mix up our messaging to the client. I realize that we all can get overwhelmed with email sometimes, yet, can we agree to be more responsive in the future?”

Second, integrity is being undivided in your communication. A Feedback Warrior does not “beat around the bush” or “sugarcoat” things. Often, managers will offer a “feedback sandwich,” to help alleviate their own anxiety. This is giving a compliment, then some constructive feedback, and then ending it with another compliment. This can confuse people as to what’s really important in this conversation and what they need to focus on.

My hope in sharing this article is that more managers will embrace their inner warrior and provide more feedback to their team. Yet, higher levels of performance don’t come from simply providing feedback. In my next article, I will share how managers should develop a Servant’s Heart in order to coach next level learning. I invite you to hit the “follow” button so you can receive future blog posts.

PS. Are you personally getting enough feedback to learn and grow as a professional? If you are a busy executive…probably not! Check out my powerful 360 Feedback Review process by clicking here.

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David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

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Can I Give You Some Feedback on Your Feedback?

Scared Guy

Hi there,

I know we don’t know each other very well, but do you mind if I give you some feedback?

Well, I don’t know how to put this. It’s never easy to talk about. Uhm, I’ll just cut to the chase…

You suck at giving feedback.  

Look, it’s not just you. Most managers are pretty terrible at it. Still, you can do better and you should work on it.

Ok? Great. Well then…good chat.

Oh yeah, your coaching stinks too, but we can talk about that later.

Ugh. Sound familiar? Most of us have had a few of these conversations with a boss throughout our careers. There is something our manager wants us to get better at, and they awkwardly stumble through giving us feedback on our performance. They are either too direct or too soft. So blunt that they trigger defensiveness in us, or so indirect that they outright confuse us. They lack details and examples. They don’t help us to see a clear path to improvement.

We leave the conversation feeling sad, pissed off, and perplexed. We don’t improve, and our relationship with our manager is often damaged.

The irony is that while this example is horribly executed, at least it’s feedback!

Most of the time, managers just avoid the discomfort of performance feedback altogether. If you are lucky, they might comment on things you are doing well, but you rarely get constructive feedback and coaching. Consider these recent findings:

  • PwC employee study found that nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under the age of 30. Additionally, more than 75% of respondents believed that feedback is valuable, and about 45% of respondents also valued feedback from their peers and clients or customers. Yet, less than 30% said they receive it.
  • Leadership experts Zenger and Folkman’s study of 900 global employees found that 69% of respondents said they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognizedMoreover, 92% of respondents agreed that when managers delivered constructive feedback properly, it was effective at improving performance.
  • Management research firm CEB confirmed that 77% of HR execs believe performance reviews aren’t an accurate representation of employee performance.

That last stat is quite telling. Managers, today, do a lousy job of giving feedback and coaching throughout the year, then performance review time comes around and acts as a forcing function. Yet, even then they “fluff it up,” avoiding the tougher conversations that might unfold by offering an honest assessment.

Or worse, they tell you all the things they should have told you months ago! You get surprised. Your ratings are not as high as you think they should be. Then, any semblance of coaching arrives way too late for you to do anything about it. The toothpaste is already out of the tube…you can’t put it back in, and you’re left with a mess.

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This really isn’t all that surprising. A recent study by CareerBuilder.com shows that a massive 58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training.Most managers in the workforce, today, are promoted due to their technical competence, not because they are innately capable of leading others. Making the people around them better requires a distinct set of skills that (typically) must be learned.

This is why after a decade of training managers in primarily Fortune 500 organizations, I’ve come to believe that the two most critical skills a manager must master are: 1) delivering feedback in a way that inspires learning and 2) coaching people to solve their own challenges. When done consistently well, great things happen. Individuals grow. Teams excel. Organizations thrive. Sure, managers need to be well-versed in a myriad of other skills as well. Yet, time and again, I keep reaching the same conclusion. Feedback and coaching is what separates the best from the rest.

Why? Well, the whole point of management is to help maximize organizational resources. People are every manager’s greatest resource. When a person receives timely, transparent, and relevant feedback, and is then coached on how to bring their highest-best-self to their work, they are being fully “maximized.” Not only do they deliver better results, but also they feel more engaged.

Still, easier said than done. It’s personally taken me the better part of my career to figure out how to artfully deliver feedback and coach people to their full potential. This is not exactly intuitive stuff! I want to help managers to expedite that learning curve, and here is the secret as I see it….

Spirit and Service

Okay, stop rolling your eyes. No, really, that’s it! All the skills of excellent feedback and coaching stem from these archetypical underpinnings. How you think determines your actions. When a manager learns to embody these values, his or her actions cannot fail but to inspire.

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First, we must cultivate our Warrior Spirit and deliver performance feedback by recognizing our duty, finding our courage, and speaking with integrity.

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Next, we must find our Servant’s Heart to coach others to their full potential. We do this by embracing humility, exercising empathy, and generating possibilities through curiosity.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more on how you can learn to bring more of your Warrior Spirit and a Servant’s Heart to your feedback and coaching skills. I invite you to hit the “follow” button so you can receive future blogs.

Example_15David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.