One of the most important things a leader can do to increase the engagement and performance of the team is to provide regular feedback to each person on the team. I recently asked a group of executives if they were providing regular feedback to their teams. The answer was an overwhelming “yes.” And then one executive added, “at least on the positive side.” What she meant was it was easy to tell people what they were doing well, but she was holding back on sharing the areas where they could improve. This is not an uncommon scenario. With the conflict that is a part of my normal every day leading, why ask for more?
Does Constructive Mean Conflict?
Some of the conflict that a leader experiences occurs when they are in a situation where they need to give constructive or negative feedback to someone. Many leaders will forego feedback altogether to avoid having to get into a potential conflict situation. Constructive does not need to mean conflict. I learned this personally when I received feedback I did not expect on a project I thought was very well done.
I was working on a video lesson for a client. When I finished the lesson, I decided to make another version of the video, without the specific client references, we could share with others. When I sent the completed second video over to the sales team to share with clients, I received an email telling me thank you, but if you want it to be excellent, you need to change three things. Be excellent? I thought it already was excellent!
What Just Happened Here?
It occurred to me that this is what leaders are trying to avoid when they withhold constructive feedback to their teams; is it “good enough?” Yes. Then let’s go with it and not risk upsetting people with my input on how to make it better. Unfortunately, letting small performance mistakes slide is an invitation for many performance mistakes to slide. If I allow work to happen that does not meet our agreed-upon standard of performance, how will we ever meet that standard?
When I re-read his email and saw those words, “if you want it to be excellent,” I realized how rare it is in my life to have people who will take the risk to tell me the truth. This person could have taken the safe route (like most people do) and let it go. When you “let it go” and don’t share the feedback, you rob someone of a growth opportunity so you can maintain your comfort. I opened the video, looked at the three things he mentioned, and saw that he was right; it could be better. I made the changes.
Feedback, Conflict and Moving from Good to Great
As a leader giving feedback, is there a risk of conflict arising from that feedback? Yes, but the risk to your business and the individuals in your business is even greater if you don’t provide the feedback.
To reduce the risk of conflict coming from feedback, consider these truths:
- The person giving me the feedback had influence with me. In the 5 Levels of Leadership model, we would say he was a Level 3 leader with me. We had developed a relationship (Level 2), and we are producing results together (Level 3). Where is your influence level with the people you lead? Do you have the kind of influence that can withstand any potential conflict caused by constructive feedback?
- The person giving the feedback had relational capital in the bank with me. Because this person had invested Level 2 (relationship) time with me over the weeks and months, he could risk making a withdrawal. He had made the relational deposits, so any withdrawal would not risk bankrupting our relationship. Are you investing in the relational capital of the people with whom you want to provide feedback?
- The person giving the feedback has answered positively the 3 Questions that I am asking as a follower about him.
- Is he trying to help me? YES.
- Does he care about me? YES.
- Can I trust him? YES.
Do the people you want to provide feedback to know that you want to help them, you care about them, and they can trust you?
Most of us are not blessed to have someone in our lives that wants to help make us better. There’s no one willing to take the risk to share with you how you could move from GOOD to GREAT. Be the leader that cares about the development of your team by building your influence and investing in the personal growth and improvement of everyone you lead.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.