Giving feedback is an important leadership responsibility. The best leaders are those who can respectfully and clearly tell their employees how they have succeeded or where they need to improve.
My Dad was good at feedback. As a science teacher and at times a principal and superintendent, he learned how to give positive feedback and teach needed skills. When he first took me to the cornfield for hoeing, he explained how to glide the hoe just under the soil to slice the unwanted weeds. Then he told me how much dirt to draw to the corn stalk to give it more strength on windy days. Finally, he demonstrated how to do what he had just explained. As the day went on he showed me where I was too light on the hilling and where I pulled more dirt than needed. This tell, show, and give feedback process was repeated with each new task he asked of me.
During my career there have been many times I have received solicited and unsolicited feedback. For me the positive feedback is easy to hear. The constructive feedback can hurt. I learned years ago that regardless of the negative aspect of the feedback or how poorly it is delivered, there is always something I can learn from it. Even when painful, I ask myself, "What do I need to learn from this?" Or "What do I need to do differently as a result of this feedback."
In my leadership roles, I approached new employees and asked for feedback regarding how they felt about the job and whether or not the flow of communication was meeting their needs. I usually asked for this feedback after thirty days and then again in ninety days. Periodically and especially at performance appraisal time, I asked my staff to review my performance. It is important for new employees to know that their opinions are valued and that I am open to hear their concerns.
One thing I learned was that if you ask for feedback, you had better be able to receive honesty from the sender. Not all feedback will be positive and negative or constructive feedback may be the most important type for my professional growth and that of the business.
Many leaders are reluctant to give corrective feedback for fear of damaging their relationship with their employees. I suggest if you see an employee acting in a way that is harmful to his or her career, you are doing that employee no favor by remaining silent. As a matter of fact, I believe, as a leader, you have an ethical responsibility to give the tough feedback as well as positive.
Leadership is a difficult role to successfully perform. Who you bring into the organization and how you talk to them once they are on board enables the organization to succeed or dooms employees to failure. How you perform these tasks separates excellent leaders from mediocre ones.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.