Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Managing the gap between intent and impact

Giving negative feedback is never easy for most of us. It takes a big man (or woman) to hear bad news about ourselves and take it on the chin. The fact is most of us find negative feedback a subtle form of attack and up go the defences. It doesn't make any difference if the feedback is right or wrong - our primordial selves are programmed for fight or flight if we perceive incoming.

One of the most common defences is the 'Intent Defence', for example  "I didn't mean to upset the team", or "Its not what I was trying to do..." or even "I was trying to help her". All these are defences of intent vs impact. We didn't mean to upset someone else but somehow we ended up doing so. Most (all?) of us have hugely positive intent but somehow our impact was different on our off days.

When we are giving feedback therefore, the territory to operate on is impact rather than intent. While we can acknowledge and even understand the positive intent in someone's actions, its the gap between this and their actual impact that we need to focus on. Otherwise we are setting up our feedback sessions for stalemate and stand-off's.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Is it time to bin the praise sandwich?

Many moon ago, when I was first taught about giving feedback the 'praise sandwich' was drummed into me as the way to do it.  You know the one - first say something nice, then deliver the bad news and then end on some good news. And I, like many managers and leaders, dutifully tried to apply this in practise.

The trouble was most of the recipients caught on fast. Rather than hearing the good news as genuinely intended, they saw it as inauthentic and unnecessary window dressing. "Why can't you cut to the chase?" was the legitimate response. Often our honest attempts at giving balanced and useful feedback backfired.

So what to do instead?  Rather than leaning on formulaic processes, wouldn't it be better if we can be straight and honest and say what we need to say.. without all the trimmings. I don't mean being brutal - the honest truth is not the same as the brutal truth - just straight and direct.

So here's my tests for giving effective feedback:

  1. Has it landed? - feedback is worthless if the recipient rejects or defends against the message.
  2. Will it lead to change? - the recipient has to be able to act on the message
  3. Has it built/maintained the relationship? - has it been done in a way that enhances the relationship and builds self-esteem.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Objections to Growth

I spent 3  days this week with a leadership group looking at how they could show up as even better leaders. While the conversation for the first 2.5 days had been flowing and open, as soon as we started on the conversation of how they needed to change the conversation ran aground.

Three objections were bandied around:

Objection no 1: "It is them that has to do the changing. " These folk clung to the idea that change is for other people - usually their bosses or their subordinates ...obviously they were not required to change and had no responsibility to do so.

Objection no 2: "I'm not that sort of leader". This group carried a notion that leaders are some sort of mythic heroic figure, blessed with extraordinary characteristics and abilities that they weren't lucky enough to have. Leadership was therefore something remote and extraordinary rather than the everyday stuff of getting people to follow you.

Objection no 3: "I can't help it - this is the way I've always been"  This group believed that behaviour was not a choice, and that their behaviour was a fixed part of their personality which they obviously couldn't change or address. 

Net result ... the status quo unless these beliefs are challenged. Anyone else seen these in action?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Delegation and the art of kite flying

I met a man a couple of weeks ago who just didn't get delegation. While he understood the need to push work down into his teams he was very reluctant to do so - "After all I am responsible and accountable - if anything goes wrong it is me that is going to get kicked, isn't it!" However his reluctance was more than this - he saw delegation as synonymous with abdication, and, I suspect, at the heart of it wasn't sure what value he added if he wasn't doing all the work. Unfortunately, he's not alone in this, I meet many leaders who fail to tap into the full capacities of their teams and whilst simultaneously bemoaning their overloaded schedules.

I think reluctance to delegate is partly to do with how we talk about. The language of delegation is often all about 'turning over' and 'letting go', empowerment of teams sounds a lot like a loss of control. What sane leader would want to 'let go' of something mission critical?  A refreshing alternative metaphor - suggested by an inspired course delegate - is kite flying. As a leader you learn to pay out more 'string' to your team as they get more adept and confident, reeling it back in if needs be. The kite never flies entirely freely, even if it is on a long, long line. The leader always retains a level of control even if it rarely applied.

I wonder if that thought would help my reluctant delegator...

Here's a link to a useful Harvard Business Review article "Why aren't you delegating ?"