Monthly Archives: July 2017

Patiently Impatient Leadership- The Art of Feedback

When was the last time someone sat you down and said, “wow, you are really bad at that”. Or husbands, when your wife says, “how does this dress look on me”… do you answer? (I would recommend not). Or a President plans on how to pardon himself… too soon?!

One of the principle foundations of my marriage and subsequently how we raise our children is built on a number of core values, and one of the most valuable values is feedback. My wife has this thing she does when she gets frustrated with me (yes it does happen). She starts the conversation out with, “**Nickname**, I’m a little frustrated… ” and I know we are about to sort out some issue or misunderstanding. It is an artful practice, but those four words plus my name, triggers an emotion in me that I need to listen, let her finish, and then speak. If I don’t understand the concern, I ask thoughtful questions, if I disagree I ask for clarity, but I do try to acknowledge, apologize, and course correct. The apology is the hardest step, but no one every said I was a finished product 🙂

We take tone and words very seriously when interacting with our boys. Never have we defamed or shamed them out of anger or frustration. Never has there been a word that would wound them for life like, “you are stupid”, “shut up”, “go away”, etc. If we are aggressive in an unhealthy way with them, we always apologize and then have a conversation about our frustration, but start it with, “Daddy shouldn’t have yelled”. Now before you roll your eyes, please understand, this does not mean we do not discipline our children or speak assertively when needed, such as, “COLIN, GET OFF YOUR BROTHER”! or “JACKSON, DO NOT TALK TO YOUR MOTHER LIKE THAT”. Any time we discipline our children it is followed by, “Jackson/Colin, come here please”. We then open the dialogue to root out what caused their behavior or action, help them understand why that was inappropriate, help them solve (on their own) how they could have responded differently, and have them respond with an acknowledgement and apology.

Over the course of my life I have found that the theory of feedback is a wonderful thing, yet the action is something to run like hell from, both giving and receiving. Up until the past year, when feedback was delivered to me I took it as “Jason, you suck… why do I even bother with you”! Yet the lack of feedback left me open for negative self-talk like “I must really be bad or they must be trying to get rid of me, they never critique my work”. You’ve been there, right?

Over the past year I have enveloped myself in a variety of studies, particular around improving my emotional intelligence, and subsequently, my leadership skills. One quote that has stuck with me over the past year is from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. When I read that I decided I wanted to be a different person and a different leader.

As leaders we have an opportunity to shape generations of people into sound decision makers, strong character, healthy risk takers, and impactful leaders. We cannot do that if our focus is handing out trophies for every win, mean mugs for every loss, or confusion during every challenge. The art of leadership begins with your ability to read, recognize, and act on the behaviors of your team through feedback.

This past week we completed our midyear reviews. As I mentioned, most of my adult life, any negative feedback delivered to me sent me to this place of self-doubt, negative self-talk, and consequently self-sabotage. This year, my boss gave me a 3-page midyear with the most thoughtful feedback I have ever received. The biggest criticism, I can be impatient. When I see an opportunity I want to drive it to immediate completion without taking into consideration other matters, such as politics (my words, not my boss’s). When I read the feedback, I laughed because it was true. I immediately called my wife and said, “boy does BOSS know me”. We chuckled and, a couple times this weekend, she has reminded me when I have started down an impatient task on something, such as baseboards.

I know impatience can sometimes get the best of me, and I discovered this last month. I’ve been reading studies on improving impatience and trying to gain perspective on how to not push my impatience to my team and family. It’s a learning curve, but I have confidence that I will get there.

So how do I deliver feedback? I lean into that important discomfort. It’s uncomfortable because it is never easy to look someone in the eye and give them constructive feedback. Human nature is to deliver the feedback as quickly as possible and end the conversation just as quickly. What this does is puts you into an uncomfortable position to also rush through the positive feedback and thus diminish the efforts of the person. So after months of tuning, here is my strategy.

Step 1: Set Expectations: “Person, thank you for giving me the opportunity to deliver some feedback on your performance. I want to make this meeting productive and a two-way street, so lets discuss some of the great things you have done and some areas for opportunity”. Notice, I invited them into a conversation, set the expectation that we would discuss good and bad, and noted the good things as “great” and the bad things as “opportunities”.

Step 2: Always Start with the Good: “Person, what do you feel are some of your strongest accomplishments so far this year”? You start with the good, allow them to self-reflect, and invite them to participate immediately. I make it a practice to reaffirm what they have pointed out, because it is clearly top of mind for them, but I also make sure I add a few points. This lets them know that I take note of what they do, not just what they tell me they do.

Step 3: Opportunities: Now is the time to really lean into that discomfort! “Person, on the flip side, what do you think are your areas of opportunities”? Seldom do I get “none”, and more often than not I get a laundry list of trivial things. I listen intently (do not take notes at this time) and focus on their words and emotions. I thank them for their transparency and spend several minutes digging into why they feel those are opportunities and helping them build accountable action plans to improve on the opportunities. Typically I craft my observations into their observations, which makes the conversation flow with buy-in. Is that always possible? No, so…

Step 4: Critique- When critique is needed and not identified by the person, I start with a targeted entry of the discomfort, “person, I have a couple additional areas of opportunity that I would like to discuss and see if we can collaborate on a strategy”. I then follow up with a broad topic and then pinpoint it with examples. “Bob, I appreciate how passionate you are about the quality of the product of your team, it shows how much you care about the work and development of your people. However, some of the feedback I have received, and on a couple instances I have observed, you are dismissive of the feedback of your peers and do not engage on finding a solution for disagreements. For example,….”

Step 5: Action Plan- I am a believer in the positive notation of an action plan and do not always view them as a negative. I avoid the terminology when I can, but I put a strategy together to help develop the opportunities. In the example above, I would let Bob respond and I would listen. I would then circle around to the corner of my desk to get a bit closer to Bob, without invading his space, and draw out some ideas on paper. I would give that written document to Bob, because it isn’t on a formal template and it is less intimidating.

Step 6: Set Expectations- I would set expectations with Bob, very clear and concise, and obtain is acknowledgement and buy-in. After Bob leaves my office, I document every detail of the conversation

Step 7: Feedback alone is useless without follow-up. I make sure that I follow up with Bob in two weeks on the actions we laid out.

Friends, feedback isn’t easy whether we deliver it to our employees, peers, or family. It is never easy to look one of my little boys in the eye and correct their behavior. I get the watery puppy dog eyes that are heart breaking. Similarly, it is never easy to deliver that feedback to an employee. In each case, improvement and development only comes when you lean into that discomfort and give the feedback they NEED to hear in a way they WILL hear it.

I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on delivering feedback if you care to share in the comments section!Feedback-meme













The Journey of Perception

This past weekend I took my boys on a little journey and, since the trip, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how we perceive one another, it’s dangers, but more importantly, the necessity to be aware and humble of it.

The trip started early Friday afternoon. We journey 90 miles to the northwest to my hometown of Findlay, Ohio. For those of you that have read my previously blog entries you know that my childhood wasn’t normal by any means. When the opportunity came in 1999 to bolt and move to Columbus, I did so without the slightest hesitation, and for good and bad, I never looked back. The sights and sounds of Findlay were like nails on a chalkboard. Nostalgia was not present in any cell of my body. 

Nearly 20 years later I returned at the request of my eldest, Jackson, and took a mental and emotional journey that I had not taken since leaving, even though I have physically journeyed that path once or twice. The trip started with a stop at my favorite pizza place, Jac N Do’s. The boys wanted to see the house I grew up in and my Aunt Judy’s house. The journey that I once perceived from house to house was much shorter than I remembered. The next relevant stop on their bucket list was where I went to Kindergarten, Northview Elementary. I could almost picture myself sitting on the monkey bars talking g to Stephanie Kuhlman, about whether I stay or go…. the playground that I once perceived as gigantic, dwarfed in comparison to the Columbus playgrounds I now see. 

We drove past my favorite spots, stores, and parks… whatever they wanted to see. We concluded at Dietsch’s Ice Cream, where Jackson proudly told the gentleman behind the counter, who happened to be an owner, “my daddy use to work here and he made the best ice cream in the world”! To which he earned a hearty chuckle from Tom Dietsch. 

As we navigated Findlay I realized distances between point A and B were much shorter than I once perceived. What I once perceived as a “long drive” in Findlay equated to a “quick trip” in Columbus. Further, the places I feared to see again or emotionally invest in brought fond memories and not pain. What I perceived to be a wound-yielding place became a place of peace and completeness in my heart. Those feelings pointed my brain toward my ” now” with my family and career, and how perception is an art of reality.

Friend, how does the world at home and work perceive you? More important, how conscious are you of that perception? Is it, “Dad is always grumpy”? “Susie won’t listen to my ideas”! “Don just doesn’t care”. “Molly is too busy for me”. Capture that first thought that came to mind and don’t let it go, chances are your thought was correct. Perception can be a wonderful self-reflection tool to make oneself better, but the prerequisite is humility. If my wife perceives me as “grumpy all the time” (she doesn’t FYI 😀), I can respond with “no you are wrong”, or ” hmm, she sees something I am missing”. Case in point… when we were dating I was stagnant in my career and felt like I was always getting passed over. I blamed and she coached. She said, “I know you think it is them, and it probably is, but what is it they see or don’t see in you that is causing you to be past over”. Six years after that sage advise I became an Exec in the very industry I was toiling in. I owe it to my wife and to God, but they used the tool of perception.

Now think of your workplace. How would your teams and peers perceive you? Easy to work with? Listener? Partner? Humble? Rolls her sleeves up? Values his people? Or the contrast? He is difficult and hard headed! It’s her way or the highway! Now he has an ego! So I have to take care of the clients while she does nothing! A thank you from him would be nice once in awhile!

It never feels good to have your flaws pointed out, particularly when you aren’t aware of them. So what do you do? Tomorrow when you go to work, find one or two colleagues that you trust and respect and ask for feedback. More important, commit them to be your accountability partner. Obtain feedback from different levels. “Tom, what can I do to be a better business partner”. “Carol, how can I make your day-to-day better”. “Tim, how was your weekend”? “Mary, I appreciate having you on my team”.

It starts with simple relationship building communication, the ability to handle and give feedback, and the acceptance that we must have constant character evolutions to be good parents, spouses, leaders, and partners. Ask yourself tomorrow, how can I show grace and humility to others today? You will find that question, and the subsequent action to be no different than pouring water on a dry garden.

Make it a go day friends!