An Early Lesson in Leadership - Critical Feedback is Crucial

07/17/2023 Reading Time: 4 Minutes

An Early Lesson in Leadership - Critical Feedback is Crucial

An early leadership lesson I learned when I became a manager was the importance of critical feedback. Feedback is a widely recognized function of leadership, but one that many struggle to execute. It is challenging due to the countless variables involved in delivering it like timing, emotions, subject matter, and dynamic organizational needs that can lead to outcomes and responses from that feedback that are not easy to predict. With so many considerations involved in having the conversation, the outcome can sometimes be unpredictable. This unpredictability makes many uncomfortable and is a reason why it is a difficult task to do. In the early stages of being a manager, I was one of those people. It wasn’t because I am conflict-averse, but rather my inexperience in preparation, not wanting to disrupt the positive vibes on the team, and the infrequency of delivering feedback. It wasn’t until I gained feedback experiences with both pleasant and unpleasant outcomes that I was able to reflect on those experiences and solicit feedback from both reports and supervisors to overcome this weakness. It took time, education, and listening to get past the first-time management nerves and I wanted to share my experience to help new managers facing the same challenges.

Feedback Nerves

I was a bit surprised by my nerves the first time I gave feedback as a manager. I am comfortable sharing in group settings, energized by debate, and proactively seeking feedback to improve on my weaknesses.  Qualities to some that indicate comfort with feedback and in settings that could involve conflict. Yet as I learned on that first occasion, these qualities did not fully support helping me provide feedback to individuals on my team. I think the one distinctive reason is that I am protective of my team and sensitive to each individual's feelings. This sensitivity does not bode well when having to have difficult conversations. I spent too much time thinking about reactions to the feedback, rather than the importance of the subject matter, and need to address it as soon as possible. This is likely due to the weight this situation places on your own psyche. Best summed up as catastrophizing the scenario I was fixated on the worst possible conclusions that can come from giving the feedback without much objective reasoning to do so (Here is a link to a great podcast that talks about this tendency in this setting).

Importance > Emotions

There is nothing wrong with having these emotions, which most can relate to, and shouldn’t be viewed negatively as they represent empathy and compassion that are required in good leaders. However, letting these emotions get in the way of proper feedback will make you an ineffective leader and stunt the development of the team you are leading. Giving feedback is one of the most important role responsibilities you have and enable success both in terms of the organization and future careers. If you struggle to get past these emotions and it hasn’t been brought to your attention by others, you need to seek help and support from other leaders, as I did early on in my role. Having a support system was an incredible boost in confidence to get over my nerves. If you come out of those conversations and it didn’t change your feelings, there is a possibility that the role isn’t a fit for you, and there is no harm if it isn’t. Every organization should understand that being in a leadership role is not the only requirement to be an asset and will be able to adjust and allow you to pursue the role that maximizes your talent and interest.

Conviction & Authenticity

With reassurance from your support system and an understanding of the importance of feedback, it is time to focus on the preparation for the conversation. Preparation will be different for every leader, and it develops over time. Two key components that are present in all successful feedback scenarios are conviction and authenticity. Conviction is important because it establishes the confidence and justification for giving feedback. You separate the work from the individual in delivering it and know that this was the best decision to make. Authenticity in your delivery is also important because it is a human attribute required in all conversations to establish trust, understanding of the feedback and enable them to take action. Throughout the delivery be clear with what is wrong and needs to be changed, and back it up with examples that support why you are providing feedback. Armed with these tools in mind, you should feel prepared and comfortable with giving feedback. As you make feedback more frequent in how you lead you will notice that these qualities become second nature.

Lead with Confidence

While giving and receiving feedback is nothing new in life, the workplace dynamic naturally adds higher pressure to the interaction and creates a lot of emotions for a leader. A wide variety of factors are at play when delivering quality feedback that requires careful and considered effort. For many new or even experienced managers, this won’t be an easy task and the only way to overcome these feelings is to remember that giving it is beneficial to all parties involved, regardless of the outcome of the conversation. Tactics can be used to make you more comfortable like improving your communication with the individual to establish trust, as well as relying on other leaders as your support system, but ultimately it will depend on you to execute. The easiest way to do that is to have conviction in the reason for the feedback and be authentic with your delivery. Make sure you are prepared and deliver your message with confidence knowing that the outcome of the conversation will create value that will provide growth to all parties involved.

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