Transcript of How Great Leadership Teams Get Great at Giving & Receiving Feeback Webinar

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Welcome everybody. Welcome to this edition of Great Leaders Build Great Leadership Teams Webinar Series.

My name is Jack McGuinness. I'm the Managing Partner at Relationship Impact and I'll be your host today. Talking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Sounds like a soft topic on feedback, sounds like maybe it's a little bit touchy feely, but from our perspective, it's one of the most difficult things for adults to actually do is to give each other feedback.

Today, just a couple notes on logistics, we have a whole bunch of people on the webinar today, so hold questions until the end. If you have a burning question during the course of this there's a chat feature, just send me a chat and I'll try to address it during the course of the discussion. If not, we'll just deal with questions at the end.

Another note that I mentioned at the beginning on my webinars is that you'll see that my slides don't necessarily measure up to PowerPoint 101. They're a little bit thick. There's a lot of content in them. I do that so that when I send them out to you all after the webinar that there's a good bit of substance in it. Sorry for those that like shorter slides.

Anyway, the flow of today's discussion is pretty straightforward. Why is feedback so important? Again, if you look at the topic it's how great leadership teams get great at giving and receiving feedback. Our focus in all our webinars, in all the work that we do is focused on leadership teams. Why is feedback so important from a leadership team perspective? Why is it so hard? It's another one of those things that's not so easy to do. Third, how do great teams get better at giving feedback? How do they build an environment where feedback is a natural course of action? Then, I'll provide you with some resources at the end that hopefully you'll take and be able to read.

Let's dive right into it, why is feedback so important? From an individual perspective, feedback is important because without it it's really hard to learn and get better, and grow. There's lots of research done on this topic. Feedback is huge. The performance management industry in and of itself is huge because of the whole concept of feedback. There's a lot of consulting firms that are focused on 360 reviews. The Center for Creative Leadership has a great instrument for that. There's lots of written and lots of research done and my anecdotal evidence from the work that we do with executive teams and the individuals on executive teams is that without feedback it's hard for folks to really grow.

There's a great book that I'll refer to at the end. I'm a big fan of Tasha Eurich. She's a young organizational psychologist who wrote this great book on insight called "Insight," which I'll talk to you about a little bit later on in terms of my tips on how to get better at feedback. She's done a study with about 5,000 leaders and it suggests that those leaders who ask for critical feedback are seen as much more effective by their superiors, peers, and employees. Just the act of asking for feedback and being able to receive it well goes a long way in the eyes of those who you work with. From an individual perspective, feedback is big for growth and for learning.

From a team perspective, why is feedback so important? From our perspective, if you listened to any of our other webinars on the work that we do with leadership teams. We believe that, simply put, if you're trying to build a great leadership team really difficult for a team to reach its full potential without creating an environment where feedback, maybe natural would be too strong of a word, but where feedback is an accepted value and it's an accepted way of doing business.

A couple of key parts to that. First of all, let's talk about our perspective on what a great leadership team is. From our perspective, great leadership teams have four very important components. One, they're focused on results, number one, absolutely in business to get results. Number two, they have what we call a forced multiplier affect, or impact above and beyond the contributions of any one person. Next, they're able to grow in capacity to solve more complex challenges over time. The last is that they're resilient. They have the ability to get back in sync after falling after the horse. If you look at these just think about growing capacity to solve increasingly challenging problems or being resilient. Without the ability to give feedback, really, really tough to actually be able to be resilient. We'll talk a little bit more about that as we move forward here.

From our perspective, there's a bunch of components, but there's two really key components for four keys to team effectiveness. A team's ability to have what we call productive dialogue or ability for teams to challenge, debate, and discuss important issues in a way that progresses the issues and leaves minimal relationship scars. That's, from our perspective, a really, really important ... Basically, are we talking about the most important things in a productive manner? If you are, your ability to hold each other accountable as a team, not just the boss accountability, but for the team, is really important. Those two keys for team effectiveness from our perspective are huge. Without your ability to give each other feedback, and constructive critical feedback, really tough to have really hard dialogue about important issues because not everyone agrees on everything, so how are we able to confront, and challenge, and give each other feedback. Ultimately, are we holding each other accountable? Accountability, if, by default, you can't give each feedback really difficult for a team to hold each other accountable.

Why is it important? Individually, really important for feedback. Feedback is important for growth and learning and from a team's perspective, for the team to be able to hold each other accountable to getting the results the team is looking for.

Why is feedback so hard? There's a cliché that feedback is a gift. I think those of us how have gone through 360 review processes will agree that sometimes it's not so easy to get feedback, but none the less, really important to get. It is a gift and if done right, it points to an ability to learn and be able to grow.

A lot of work and a lot of studies done on adult psychology. One of the toughest things for adults to do is to actually give each other feedback or hold each other accountable, and especially when it comes to peers. Not as hard necessarily when it comes to a boss to a direct report relationship, but sometimes, oftentimes, not easy for adults to give each other feedback at a peer level or for a direct report to give a boss feedback. We'll talk a little bit more about that as we go through here.

If you at Pat Lincioni's work, his seminal work on "Five Dysfunctions of a Team," he says, "The good to great companies..." actually, this is from Jim Collins on good to great. "The good to great companies, phrases like loud debate, heated discusses, healthy conflicts, pepper the transcripts of the good to great companies." Debate, just heated discussions, conflict, it assumes that there's some healthy back and forth and sometimes constructive, and sometimes not constructive feedback to each other.

Symptoms of feedback challenges in terms of why is feedback so hard, there's a few. The elephant in the room syndrome, I think of us that have worked on executive teams before have experienced this. We're talking about an issue, it's maybe a bit controversial, we know something needs be done about it, but we're not addressing it head on, so whether you call it the elephant in the room, the dead fish on the tables, whatever, we're kind of avoiding confronting the issue head on.

Love fests, we start our feedback with how great everyone is, you're doing such a great job. Then we give a little bit of feedback and then pepper it back in with some praise, kind of a love fest sandwich. The challenge with that the message sometimes get lost in the love fest language. Passive-aggressive, we've seen this before where if I do get some feedback I might get a little heated and give some back to you that may or may not be warranted, those types of things.

Then lobbying, we rely on the boss, or the leader, or the CEO rather than addressing and giving each other feedback in the room we lobby the boss out after a meeting, for example.

Just got a question, "How do you differentiate good feedback from bad feedback and/or is there a bad feedback?" Okay, I'm going to get to that for sure. When we go through the course today if we don't please bring it up again, but great question.

Giving and receiving feedback is really hard, especially for adults. Number one, why is it so hard? Number two, in many organizations there is an unwritten rule that it's the bosses job to be the feedback giver. It's not necessarily my place to give critical feedback to my teammates. If you go back to the slide before where we talked about productive dialogue or a team holding itself accountable, it is one way to operate and we've seen this for sure where the CEO or the general manager, the team leader, formal team leader, is the one that is responsible for giving everyone feedback, good, bad, and ugly. That is one way to operate. From our perspective, if you're really trying to build a team really important that, and as Mary Shapiro says in "HBR Guide to Leading Teams" really important for everyone to be holding each other accountable, because as she says CEOs, particularly in today's fast-paced environment can't possibly observe everything. That's the second factor in why feedback is so hard.

Third, our experience, which I think is coupled by a lot of research. I'm a junkie on business reading. Our experience suggests that the most pervasive reason for why giving feedback is so challenging is that many times people aren't good at receiving it. People aren't good at receiving feedback, so when we give it we get clobbered or there's an emotional response, so feedback gets shut down pretty quickly. Symptoms of the difficulty receiving feedback, like we talked about, emotional responses, anger, defensiveness, resignation, defeat, an inability to listen. If we're forming our response before we even have heard what the other person has actually said.

Then, as the person asking the question, how do you differentiate good feedback from bad feedback, or is there bad feedback, yeah, there is definitely. Sometimes it's difficult to filter inaccurate or nefarious, meaning just mean, nasty feedback. However, your response in how you receive the feedback, even if it's not so good, you can learn a lot from it. We're going to talk a little bit about that as we go forward.

Three reasons why feedback is so hard, number one, it's hard for adults to challenge each other. Number two, sometimes in some organizations it's just the leader's job and that's the environment, the culture, the values that an organization may have created. Third, if folks aren't very good at receiving feedback then it gets shut down pretty quickly.

What do you do to foster an environment of feedback? Number one, and if you've listened to any of our other webinars, unfortunately, CEOs, presidents, general managers out there are responsible for a lot. One of the things you're definitely responsible for is creating an environment where a leadership team can thrive. One of those factors of helping a leadership team thrive from our perspective is modeling the ability to give and mostly, mostly to receive feedback. In the work we do with executive teams we work on behalf of the executive team, but we start and spend a lot of time with the CEO, the formal leader, whoever that might be, in helping them prepare to receive feedback so that once we start the feedback process with the team the skids have been greased for the leader to be able to hear some things that he or she may not want to hear.

Like it says here, without the leaders active or visible commitment to receiving feedback, a commitment, visible commitment, which we'll talk about in a second, visible commitment, team members won't give the leader feedback and are much less likely to give and receive feedback with their peers or others. Leaders are critical in terms of their ability to model, giving but mostly receiving. How they receive feedback sets up a team's ability to foster an environment of feedback and accountability.

Symptoms of insincere receptivity feedback, we've all heard, these are just a few, these come from the mouth of many clients who we've worked with. Wait, do I really do that? In a group setting if we give the CEO feedback they say, "Wait a minute, do I really do that?" They look around at their colleagues and what they're really doing is looking for their colleagues to say, "No, you don't do that. You don't do that." That's one. Another one might be, "I don't think you understand. Let me explain what I meant by that." Another example, "Before you go any further, give me several specific examples of what you mean." That's a classic one. "I need specific examples. Before you even finished what you're telling me I need very specific examples." We're going to talk about examples in a second, not that examples are bad, but the receptivity to hearing first before I need 15 examples is important.

After meeting a CEO or might talk to a peer or someone else on the leadership team and say, "Hey, let me tell you the bull I just heard from Bob about how I do X, Y, or Z." Those are some insincere examples of receiving feedback. We want to combat those, which we're going to talk about in a second. Number one, fostering an environment where feedback thrives in an executive team, and ultimately, in an organization, without the leader modeling it won't happen from our experience and our perspective.

Number two, encourage leadership team members to be self-aware. I want to stop here because if I polled all of you right now and I asked you if you were self-aware 90% of you would say, "Absolutely, I'm fully self-aware."

Tasha Eurich's study on those 5,000 executives that she did, just one study, but her study suggests that only 10-15% of the people studied actually were actually self-aware based on these two types of self-awareness. She goes on to say that there are two types of self-awareness. Number one, there's internal self-awareness and then number two, there's external self-awareness. Internal self-awareness is being reflective and really stepping back and being intentional and honest with yourself about what's important to you, what are your aspirations, what do you value, how do you react to things? What is my impact on others? How do I influence other people's behavior, for example. That's really important from a self-awareness perspective to have that ability to step back and reflect on how do I think I'm doing in terms of how I interact with others.

Number two, the external self-awareness. It means understanding and really having a deep understanding of how other people view us in terms of those same factors listed above. What we see and as evidenced in this study by Tasha Eurich, is that the balance of these two things, really self-aware people are able to balance seeing themselves clearly and getting feedback to understand how others see them. It's not just enough ... External self-awareness is not just me thinking what Bob, or Jim, or Jen thinks about me, but really getting a deeper understanding of these are some of the things I think I'm challenged by. These are some of the things that I think I do well. What's your perspective? What's been your experience in dealing with me? Those two things are really important.

There are a number of ways, exercises, that you can use to ... Just get her book and there's some great exercises in her book, her book "Insights" about how you test your level of internal and external self-awareness.

Really important, if you're not self-aware, not just the leader, but all the folks on the team don't have a sense of self-awareness from these perspectives, this internal and external perspective, really difficult to be a good feedback receiver. I would argue it's hard to really give good feedback too. Number two is really gaining a sense of self-awareness.

Number three, use this reflection that you have in terms of your level of self-awareness to practice some new approaches for receiving feedback. There's a few really critical ones in terms when we start with receiving feedback because the act of receiving feedback well either opens up or closes down an environment of feedback. If it's done well it really opens it up. If it's done poorly it closely it down. Approach feedback with a sense of curiosity, even if you think the other person is crazy and what their saying is really way off-base. Look fro the grain of truth in what they're saying.

Back to the question how do you differentiate good feedback from bad feedback, you can, there's no question. You know when someone's out to get you. You know when maybe someone has a vendetta, or you know when someone is just flat out wrong. If you approach it rather than being defensive, and you listen, and you approach their feedback with a sense of curiosity, the amount of information you can glean from that is dramatic and you also, without defensiveness, you take the high road and are able to ... I'm not suggesting that you don't suggest ... Well, let's have a discussion about that. "Tell me a little bit more about what you're talking about, so we can have a healthy conversation about this." I'm not suggesting you sit back and get attacked on something, but your first response in how you receive feedback is huge.

Listen actively, this means rather than think of how your response while the other party is talking. No question you should get more data. There's a great article that I'll suggest here just in recent HBR, again, by Tasha Eurich on feedback especially, is suggest you got to get more data. Get more data with the intention of understanding, not proving, that the feedback is wrong. When you ask for give me five examples, be open about the five examples. Don't use the five examples as a vehicle to knock them down. I hope that makes sense.

Lastly, demonstrate appreciation. Say thanks and try as hard as you can to mean it, even though if what you got is not what you wanted to hear. After productively receiving your feedback, using these tips that I've provided above, take some small, visible steps to demonstrate that you're actually serious about getting feedback.

I'll give you an example of a small, visible step. Those folks that are quick to react, that are defensive, that can't wait to get their point out on the table before the other person has even finished providing feedback, if they step back and jot down some notes, and look up, and nod, and gain eye contact, little things like that will go a long, long way, so asking questions and being curious. "Tell me a little bit more about what you're saying about that. Huh, I hadn't really thought about it from that perspective. I'm not sure I totally agree with you, but let's talk about that a little bit more."

Stay engaged, this is really important. Staying engaged has two points to it. Continue to ask, particularly those that are genuine in their feedback, if they've gone to the trouble to give you some feedback ask them how you're doing in a few weeks. Say, "I've been really working on what you talked to me about. How's that going?"

Then, most importantly, don't be passive-aggressive. Particularly with executive teams I see this happen all the time, get some feedback. The feedback process might go okay, you might practice a couple things I'm preaching up here, but then afterwards you're just ticked off and it's obvious that you're ticked off. Then, the work that you've done and the actual giving and receiving part kind of goes to waste a little bit because people know you're going to either take it out on them, or you're going to pick up your ball and go home, those kind of things. We spend a lot of time on receiving feedback because we think it's the cornerstone of the feedback process.

Next, giving feedback, obviously really important. A lot of defensives, a lot of the emotional reaction can be dimensioned if feedback is given well. Really think about ... Again, that self-awareness is huge. Look at it from how you see yourself and how others see you, and as it relates to your ability to give feedback. Are you direct but mean? It's good to be direct, but not nice to be mean. Are you harsh? I guess another way of saying mean. Are you always going back to pass and ripping people apart for things they've done and tried to work on? Giving feedback is really important.

There's a few tips here, more than a few, in terms of giving good feedback. One is know your audience as best you can. Remember the context which I'm giving this talk, it's for an executive team that actually works together on a regular basis. Knowing your audience, you should know the players on your team and know who is on the spectrum of who is going to receive well and who's not. Who are those that are thick-skinned versus who are those that are thin-skinned. Anticipate the reaction to the feedback receiver as best you can. If you know someone is defensive, you know someone is emotional, couch your feedback in a way that enables them to even want to hear your first sentence.

Number two, be respectful and set a constructive tone. I guess those two go together, right? Always be respectful, always set a constructive tone. We're not always going to do that, but you always should. You should always strive to.

As much as possible be forward looking. Try to use feedback in a way of not so much bashing someone for making a mistake or doing something wrong, but thinking about what the impact was and what the impact will be going forward if they change how they're approaching something.

Now, I should have probably set the context for feedback in the first slide that we talked about today. Really, I'm not really talking about performance related feedback, although, a lot of the giving and receiving stuff in here is similar for performance, but if you have performance-related problems you still need to follow these types of guidelines, but performance-related challenges are a little bit of a different animal.

Be direct, but in a manner that insures the receiver understands what you're saying. What I really mean by this is, back to that Love Fest thing, sometimes we're so nervous about giving someone feedback that the message is lost in what we're saying. You say, "Well, you just told me how great I am, and then you said something, but I'm not really sure what I did that I could have done better at." I'm sure we've all been there before.

Practice curiosity and actively listen. It's the same for giving and receiving. When someone responds when you give them some feedback be curious because you could be wrong. You may have made an assumption that could be wrong. You may have seen something that wasn't actually there, whatever.

The last thing is deliver in a timely manner. I think that's really important. Waiting months to give feedback on something that happened, the feedback, the message gets lost.

These are some key tips, know your audience, be constructive, be forward looking, be direct, be curious and deliver in a timely manner.

Let me give me an example for preparing for an emotional response to feedback. If you know that someone is going to potentially have an emotional response to their feedback they're defensive people in nature. Full disclosure, it may be me. This is a scenario. "Are you open to hearing some of my thoughts on how the meeting went this morning?" You're asking for some permission to give some feedback. By saying, "Are you open," can kind of help to disarm the receiver a bit. Rather than saying, "Hey, I saw you did this this morning, I want to talk to you about it, I got some feedback," little bit of a different approach.

Following this scenario, if you are open, let me start by saying that these are my observations and they certainly could be off-base, but it's just what I saw this morning and I wanted to give you my two cents. A sense of humility here and a willingness to potentially be wrong, obviously, that only works if it's genuine. If it's not genuine and you have this feeling that you're right about everything then this will come across like that, so permission, your perspective.

Forward looking, in the interest of helping our team to continue to build an environment we can talk about tough stuff in a good way I wanted to talk to you about this. Gently moves from blaming to how do we get better as a team. "It looked to me that you responded defensively this morning when Jim provided his input on the profile of hiring one of your direct reports. In some respects, I understand your reaction, but if we really want the team to be open and share their thoughts can you see how defensive my reaction might get in the way?" Obviously, this is a one way discussion you're going to have back and forth here, but you're asking for permission making sure folks know it's just your perspective. Then you're a bit forward looking.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. As I said earlier, feedback is a gift. We realize that feedback is hard, it's hard in your family, with your spouse sometimes it can be. It's certainly hard in a professional environment. From our perspective, great teams are great at giving feedback to each other because they're really interested in holding each other accountable to the results they're commissioned to get. Being able to have a feedback rich environment and an accountability rich environment can reduce churn, improve the efficiency of decision making, strengthen team member relationships, and model feedback and accountability for the rest of the organization.

I can tell you one thing we see all the time is those leadership teams, those leaders that preach accountability, and openness, and collaboration, and feedback. All of these types of things, if they don't model it themselves, I talked about the CEO or the leader modeling, if they don't model it themselves then the rest of the organization sees them not doing that and it becomes lip service.

Those are my thoughts on feedback. We recognize it's not easy. We think it's really important, particularly from an executive team perspective. We also think there are some pretty practical things that can be done by the leader from a modeling perspective. Number two, from a self-awareness perspective.

I'll take a couple questions now. It says, "How often do you think giving feedback and receiving feedback is good from your experience?" Often. We encourage the teams that we work with to commit to working on some behaviors that individually will help their teams be more effective.

We also ask them to say, "But if I fall down on this, which I will, could you please give me some feedback?" It really, really points to as much as you can. I'm differentiating this from performance issues, versus teams, collaboration, and working, and holding each other accountable issues. I hope that makes some sense.

Thanks Pat, Pat, a former client said, "Hey Jack, thanks, great job." Appreciate that Pat.

Love for other folks that have any questions ... I'll stay on for a while.

Let me just go, I have a complimentary offer here. Here's some resources, I'm going to send these all out to everyone that participated today. I'll send all these slides out. I also have a complimentary offer for CEOs, presidents, general managers, a complimentary team assessment that you can take that looks at a team from a system's perspective, looks at structural factors of your team, the relational factors of your team. It's an online assessment, takes about 20 minutes to take. It helps you as the leader, gives your perspective on how your team is doing from those perspectives. That offer is open to everyone that's on the call as well.

Any other questions?

Okay, another question, "In today's environment where some team mates are located remotely and being together as a unit is tough," yeah, this is a good one, "what techniques can you suggest to put in play the suggestions you're providing?" Location is a challenging thing, no question about it, it is challenging. We see that more, and more, and more. The commitment making process is huge. I recommend as much as you possibly can, when you do make commitments as a team, and you can use a self-awareness exercise as a vehicle for that. What I'm getting at, from the commitment making process is, I'm committing as a team member. I've heard your feedback and I've heard you say that I'm aggressive, and I don't listen well, and that I really am not open to other people's opinions or perspectives. I'm going to commit to work on those things. When I fall down on those I want to hear some feedback. Through email, through conference calls, through work sessions with some of your direct reports you find out that I'm not doing a good job on that, when you make that commitment you open up the team to automatically give you feedback.