Last week I put together a proposal for a perspective client and had a colleague look at it before sending it out. After reading it, she pointed out some of the ways that I could improve the proposal, and did it in a way that left me feeling good about the whole exchange. I immediately made the changes that she recommended. It got me thinking about the skillful way that she made her suggestions and the art of giving effective feedback.
It’s such an integral part of building and maintaining strong relationships. We all need to be able to do it, but so often we have trouble with it. We stress about it, put it off and when it finally reaches a tipping point it often comes out in a way that ends up being seen as a personal attack or as unfair, or as just plain WRONG. It pushes the emotional buttons of the other person to the point where they become defensive and stop listening to the feedback. Feedback like that does no one any good. The good news is that there are a few simple rules to follow to make the feedback you give easier for others to hear and accept.
I was in Barbados conducting a leadership seminar. Nice work if you can get it, right? Especially since there was snow on the ground in Philly. I was having dinner at the open air restaurant on the second floor of the Hilton Resort looking out over a magnificent courtyard with pools, waterfalls and palm trees. It was beautiful! I watched a family of four – a Mom and Dad and two teenage kids – maneuver into the courtyard and select a centrally located table, pretty close to the pool and the trees. As they sat down, each one of them opened a device – laptops for the parents and tablets for the kids – and then they spent the next 45 minutes with their heads buried in their devices! Here they were in paradise, and they couldn’t even take advantage of it because of the virtual leash tying them to someone, somewhere else.
We were talking about building relationships in a personal leadership seminar I was teaching and Rachel brought up an interesting issue. She had been working hard to build a positive work relationship with one of her colleagues, but despite her best efforts, she didn’t feel that she had made much progress. She felt a bit frustrated and discouraged. She’d done everything she could think of, including grand gestures to win this person over, and despite his “thanks for the help” he always reverted back to the same apparent lack of interest. She was wondering what she was doing wrong and if it was a hopeless case.
I was leading a New Manager’s workshop for one of my clients and Matt brought up an issue: “I don’t understand why some of my team just seem to be going through the motions. They don’t take initiative, they don’t seem invested in what they’re doing, they don’t seem to want to be here. How do I motivate them?” That opened up the floodgates, with the majority of new managers in the room talking about the sad state of affairs of the motivation of the people that they managed. So I asked a question: “Can A Manager Motivate A Direct Report?” As they talked it through, it soon became apparent that it’s not a simple question. Motivation comes from within the individual. It’s an intrinsic force that energizes, directs and sustains our efforts. There’s no button you can push, as a manager, to turbocharge the motivation of your staff. Bummer!
Pretty much everything you do with other people requires influence. Nobody HAS to do what you want them to do. Even if you are the CEO of the whole organization, your ability to persuade others to embrace and follow your vision will make the difference between success and failure. Positional power only gets you so far – right up to about compliance. Reaching commitment and ownership requires influence, even at the top. And most of us aren’t the CEO. Which means that we have even less power and authority to get people to do what we need them to do.
Influence isn’t some Jedi mind control trick. It’s about getting your idea or proposal a fair hearing; it’s about being a trusted advisor; it’s about having credibility. Influence is the ability to positively affect the beliefs, attitudes or behavior of the person with whom you’re working. Some people are able to influence naturally. They seem to have an innate ability to build relationships and gain commitment. Others of us have to work at it. But it is a skill – like playing pool, skiing, or even dancing. You can learn how to improve your influence.
But beyond the actual skill set of influencing, there is a self-generated roadblock that prevents many of us from acquiring the influence that we’d like: Our Mindset about influencing.
Susan had worked hard to become Principal at Walden Elementary School. She had paid her dues as a teacher for 10 years while she completed a Doctorate in Education. She took over as Principal three years earlier and she hit the ground running. She had friends on the staff and she cared passionately about the children. She wanted what was best for each one of them. Now here she was today, in front of all of her students, their parents and their teachers having to say goodbye. She had lost her job. Her last words to them in the goodbye assembly were “My intentions were always to do what was best for the children”.
There were probably a number of contributing factors that led to this moment. It’s very seldom just a single issue. But one of the factors contributing to Susan’s abrupt end may go back to a gap between her intentions and how her team saw those intentions.
If you are a manager, you’ve probably learned that it is one of those things that looks pretty easy from the outside, but can turn out to be difficult to do well when you actually try it. Managers have to perform a number of different functions and play a variety of roles. It’s an active – proactive – process that requires a number of different qualities, skills and abilities.
Take a moment and think about it. Based on your experiences – whether as a manager or having seen managers in action – What does it take to be effective? Write your ideas down on a piece of paper before you read any farther.
If you are like most of my clients you probably wrote qualities like: effective communicator, organized, good delegator. They are all great answers! But let me give you another way of thinking about this – a formula for management effectiveness. I want to give you an equation.
Now before you flashback to ninth grade algebra and start getting anxious, let me acknowledge that this is more of a metaphor for management effectiveness than a strict algebraic equation. It gives us a framework within which we can talk about the key variables and their relationships to one another. Ok, enough disclaimers. Here’s the formula: