In the early days of my journalism career (the late 1980s), during which I worked hard to prove my worthiness to fill this male-dominated occupation, my managing editor gut-punched me with some brutal feedback.
I was working on a front-page story that I thought would be an attention-grabber and enlightening. He didn’t think so. He thought it lacked substance, wasn’t captivating, and worse, wasn’t well written.
“You may not think that now,” he said, “I’m doing you a favour.” He was right. I didn’t think he was doing me a favour at all. It was hurtful.
Sometimes it’s during these painful moments that we learn our greatest lessons.
My lesson during this situation wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work (as he clearly pointed out), I was taking on too much work, trying to accommodate every request for space in the paper, thus, relinquishing my time to put my creative juices to the task. I was cheating myself and my readers by focusing too much on quantity instead of quality.
His feedback taught me so much going forward.
To be a true leader, you must enable others to act responsibly and not encourage bad worker habits by overlooking them. At the same time, you cannot berate a worker for trying hard but for making an honest mistake. The goal of a leader is to empower others to work.
Accepting the gift of feedback with wisdom and humility is a superpower we all need. Being in a position of power to help your employees grow through feedback creates purpose and inspires action.
Here’s my candid feedback gift:
- When giving feedback, it may be tempting to say what you believe the other person wants to hear but doing so is a disservice to that person and non-beneficial to you. The purpose of feedback is to highlight strengths and make the person aware of potential areas for improvement. No matter how great a job one is doing, there is always something that can be done better or more effectively.
- Don’t rob that employee of an opportunity to grow. On the other hand, if all you focus on are areas for improvement without commending the employee for what they are doing well, you are robbing them of a chance to shine.
- When giving feedback that requires change on the part of the employee, make sure you are specifically focusing on the behaviour that needs to be changed, not something that can’t be changed, such as the employee’s personality. Also, be timely in your feedback, set clear expectations of change and gain the employee’s commitment to do so.
- A positive attitude is essential to encouragement. No one likes to fail, and many take it personally. While failure should never be rewarded, a compassionate attitude and positive outlook can work wonders. A child only learns to walk by falling many times. The focus is not on the fall, but on getting up. The goal is to walk…then run
Whether in a workplace or a relationship, feedback is a priceless gift.