In my previous article I outlined how you should prepare for the conversation. In this article, I share advice from members of my network on how to have the conversation.
Now that you’re ready to have the conversation, what do you do?
Dr. Jerry Bishop advocates for a simple approach that always preserves the person first no matter their level within the organization. She observes that we tend to over complicate things and rationalize our tailored approach to levels. Dr. Bishop always gives respect first.
Attorney and mediator, Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton, proposes a conversation that starts with acknowledgement and appreciation of what the individual has done for the business, how that person has led, and key successes. She then asks the leader what they might have done differently. This empowers the individual by recognizing the proactive and forward thinking steps taken while leading before asking the leader to reflect on things that may not have been as positive for the company, This approach enables a leader to be more available to hear and accept information on things that may not have been realized or done in the business’ best interest.
Patricia Pitsel, Ph.D. observes that corrective feedback is meant to ‘fix’ something. However, the leader may not even know that there is something that needs to be fixed. Dr. Pitsel’s advice is not to criticize until you have built up a sufficient balance of constructive comments prior to the situation. The old bank illusion fits here – you can’t make a withdrawal unless you have made a deposit.
Career coach and mentor extraordinaire, Heinz Plaumann, has used this simple model to successfully provide feedback to Senior Vice Presidents: these are 3 things you should keep doing, these are three things that you should start doing, and you should stop doing these three things. He notes that the key to acceptance is to approach and present information tactfully.
Emotional intelligence expert, David Cory, teaches people how to use an assertiveness model that he has developed, which begins with the classic “I” statement. This lets the person in power know about their “impact” on emotions and invites dialogue. This approach does not make you look rude or insubordinate. It provides information and invites the deepening of the relationship, even when delivering difficult or critical feedback (speaking truth to power).
Quality Assurance Engineer, Charlie Saavedra, believes that the best approach is to be direct, emphasizing the following : a) Focus on the situation, subject or behavior and not on the person itself; b) Keep the self-esteem and self-confidence of everyone in the team; c) Maintain a constructive and solid relationships; d) Be proactive to take the lead by doing the things better every time; e) Guide and lead by example; and f) Think way before the rush of the moment.
Raya Rahbari states that talking about the impact of a leader’s behavior on the business is important. Most senior leaders have a lot invested in their organizations and teams and don’t want to risk that. Becoming more aware of any negative impacts and influences they may have on their business can be informative, as well as behavior-changing.
Raymond Bédard notes that it is all about ‘walking the talk’. Senior leadership (leadership at all levels for that matter) should act as role models. Making a link between desired performance outcomes (usually expressed in team or organizational charters and goals) and behaviors, is the best way to address performance issues by leaders.
Ultimately, providing critical feedback to senior leaders is not a science, and more of an art. Many factors create the perfect environment for feedback to be received, internalized, and applied. However, it is rare to find that perfect situation, right level of trust and receptivity, and right timing. Nonetheless, providing more senior leaders with constructive feedback is important, not only for the growth of the individual, but to address the risk to the individual and potentially the company, if awareness isn’t created and behaviors aren’t addressed.
We’ve seen that recently in the high tech industry with senior male leaders behaving inappropriately with their female counterparts and staff members. One wonders what might have happened if constructive feedback about the inappropriateness of their behavior, earlier on in their careers might have made a difference.
If you’d like to read more, Karima Kara recommends one of her favorite books: Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Stone.
How you do you provide critical feedback to senior leaders in your organization?