Practise for Performance

One of the great secrets of improving performance is the concept of ‘deliberate practise’. It’s been popularised in a couple of recent business/self-help books, but originates more from the research of K. Anders Ericsson in describing the cognitive acquisition of expert performance. And that’s been around since at least the early 1990s.

In fact, the principle goes back much much further than that: from Aristotle through to the major global religions, to Mozart, to contemporary basketball superstars, they all advocate the value of practising on a repeated basis.

What most people miss in professional situations, however, is the ‘deliberate’ part. They say, “Well, I’ve been doing this profession for 20 years, I ought to be good at it by now.” But deliberate practise involves focusing on specific aspects and techniques of your work in order to become more skilled. It’s the kind of thing that often doesn’t happen in the myriad of demands placed on you during your work. Think of the violin prodigies practising their fingering, sets of scales and a couple of pieces for 5 hours a day for months and months – then years and years – before becoming those brilliant virtuosos.

The deliberate practise principle is one I’ve long built in to my work helping people to become better leaders, better at their work, better communicators and public speakers and more. Break down the skills. Build in opportunities to rehearse them. Use your natural gifts and talents to help build those skills.

What skills or results do you need to build that you are not deliberately practising? If you need to build them, but don’t know how, then it’s time to pull the performance apart and analyse how you can improve your performance.

How much improvement is worth the effort? Well, for a virtuoso violinist, a 1% improvement in performance is a world away from everyone else. And for them, that’s worth it.

“He’s Like a New Man!”

My client started off a conversation on Monday by addressing how things are going with one of his key people,

“Really good. Really good. He’s like a new man, to be honest!”

I’ve been coaching this key Project Manager in his overall leadership and project management, his innovation, his business sense, his client relationships, his presence, his communication, his attitude, his positivity and the respect, commitment and follow-through he generates from his team and those all around him. Additionally, it has been essential to foster a strong, productive relationship between him and his manager. The individual has been a productive Project Manager in the past, however there had been a number of problems with his recent projects, decreased profitability, evident issues with his leadership, and loss of potential follow-up work and variations with lucrative clients.

The Operations Manager and Human Resource Manager of this powerful resources firm didn’t want to abandon or dismiss this Project Manager, nor could they afford to turn a blind eye to an individual responsible for multi-million dollar projects. They knew that a workshop or other ‘educational’ solution would not produce results. Their best option was to hire me to help this man change for the better. They knew by recommendation that I would deliver.

The fundamental shifts in mindset came within the first couple of conversations. I work towards creating dramatic results wherever possible. Besides gathering information and profiling the coaching client, I observed him with his staff and clients on-site. We followed through with a number of principles and specific behaviours for him to address: everything from conceptualisation of the critical elements of leadership and project management, through to client interaction and his impact on the business. I helped him form a framework for how he thinks and communicates with others.

What I did was work to create a positive, forward-thinking, more business-savvy, strategic leader who learned better how to lead and manage a team that would be more concerted, more enthusiastic, more driven, more committed and pleased with their successes.

Amongst other things, the Senior Manager commented on the coaching client’s change from a previously pessimistic and negative attitude to a positive and more constructive one:

“You can see him pull himself up … it’s actually noticeable. It’s really good!”

Results such as the change that we have achieved are worth the investment of time and money. My coaching (and his efforts) has changed this man’s leadership, his professionalism and his life for the better and changed those of the people around him.

Coaching is future-focused. It’s about how you improve later today and tomorrow. So whether it’s taking the cream of the crop and helping them to be even better or remedying performance, there is always an element of change involved.

As one of my executive clients says when he eagerly records some points of insight during our discussions, “This is what it’s about … getting those refinements to my thinking and behaviour!”

I believe that creating dramatic change also requires creating lasting change. To do that, you need to address fundamental beliefs, assumptions and values – and that applies to both individuals and organisations. It also requires the presentation of evidence that can dramatically affect someone’s assumptions and influencing that individual or group through insightful communication. Surface agreement leads to surface ripples, but no underwater current.

Funnily, the senior Manager had asked the coaching client after our very first session, how it had affected him. The ‘coachee’ noted a number of thoughts and ideas he was excited about. The senior Manager laughed, “But that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” “Yeah, but Peter had a really good way of saying it!” How you communicate messages are critical to change and coaching discussions – and communicating these using multiple means of persuasion. (And I’m good at communicating those messages.)

Once initial changes are made, follow-through, accountability, managing the environment, while extrapolating implications, behaviours and further principles are all vital. It’s one of the reasons why I create unique technologies, IP and processes to maintain that growth.

Make the effort to create change for yourself and your organisation. It’s worth great investments to see that “new man”!

Whether you want private consulting and coaching, remote or face-to-face work, or team and organisational consulting, we can implement processes that will create dramatic improvement for you and your people. Contact me through theleadershiplamplight.com or www.lamplighter.com.au if you would like to discuss how you can improve your performance.

Copyright 2014 Peter J. McLean.

 

Meaning From Your Work

Much of my work centres on enhancing and leveraging the meaning that my clients derive from their work – both individually and organisationally.

It is too easy in the modern economy to focus on anaemic ‘value adding’ and ‘shareholder value’ without focusing on the meaningfulness of the work one actually performs.

One of my clients, CEO of a major publicly listed company with over $250 million annual revenue, found himself trapped in a situation where the board and shareholders were focused on maximising shareholder value. He confided to me that share prices had risen 10-fold since his appointment and that he was regarded therefore as a superstar, but that analytically it was a mystery to him why the share price had risen so high. It was equally a mystery why the share price had dropped so low before his tenure, excepting that market ‘confidence’ was the prime reason and that there were problems with the management of the company. I noted that it was equally market confidence in his ability that had led to the share price rise, but we agreed that this would be unsustainable.

One of the key problems was that the short-sighted ‘shareholder value’ view did not focus on the organisation’s central mission for its clients. And that meant that they weren’t doing what they needed to in their management, long-range planning and capacity-building to ensure that they were competitively placed in the market and ensuring growth. He knew there was so much that needed to be changed and he was the man to do it. Unfortunately, it was the board that suffered from a lack of strategic and operational courage and blocked him left, right and centre and reacted spontaneously with panic to market forces, undermining his role as the CEO.

To cut a long story short, I suspected that his frustration – and the board’s intransigence – might lead to his departure from the position. Sure enough, just a couple of months after we ceased working together on a major presentation, he decided while on vacation that he’d had enough of this game. It wasn’t what he wanted for himself, his family, or his career. Financially, he was wealthy enough to never ‘work’ another day in his life and still have a lot left over. He wasn’t in it for the money. Never had been. He was in the game to do something meaningful in an industry that he loved.

Therefore, he quit and a short while afterwards started a new company under his banner. Within a few months, many in the industry he served flocked to his company because they knew that his name meant high value, quality product and service. They trusted him, because he sought the intrinsic meaning and value from his work, as did those who came to work with him.

A couple of years later, his new company continues to do well. He puts in the effort where he wants and has a team of people delivering great value for their clients. And they have an outstanding, high value enterprise that benefits everyone with ‘value’. It’s just not listed on the speculative, mystery-laden, confidence-swindling, hedge-funding stock exchange dominated by ‘numbers men’ who don’t understand the inherent value of the enterprise.

The public company for which he was CEO never did revert to building the right management and quality and has become a sad byword in the industry as it slowly dwindles away. It currently has revenue less than a third of that from just a few short years ago and is engaged in a protracted asset sell-off as it loses more and more capability and more and more contracts due to poor execution. Its share price has to be measured in decimal points – a mere fraction of the value it once held.

Steve Jobs famously demonstrated time and again that ‘maximising shareholder value’ was not his focus – it was creating great tech that people loved. And he and his team at Apple built a fabulous global company that certainly has delivered tremendous shareholder value.

Too many CEOs don’t take that approach and wonder why their lives and the execs around them are shallow and deprived of meaning. It is through their external lives – not their companies – that they find meaning, if at all.

It’s past time for those CEOs to look to find the inherent meaning and value in their work. Focus on the customer. Focus on your people. Focus on a great industry with exciting product and innovations, the joy of creation and the delight of winning at your work. Focus on using your gifts & talents and those of your people to achieve something worthwhile – and profitable. But don’t focus on the $$ above all else. Down that path lies moral and spiritual destitution, depression and despair.

Whilst it is difficult for CEOs and Boards, particularly those publicly listed, to focus on the meaning of what they are doing, it is essential. It requires courage. But it has never been denied that great leadership does not want for courage.

You can find the meaning in your work, but you need to take the time, the effort and the counsel to do so. I’ve made it a speciality to do so in all my work, as have many people I have worked alongside throughout differing careers. I’ve had the pleasure of helping and coaching people in finding theirs. It is not only feasible, it is entirely possible and practical to do so. The result is exhilarating and liberating.

Whether you are a CEO, a chief executive, a business owner, or a poor ‘shmuck’ on the bottom of the totem pole, you can find meaning. Give it a try.

How have you found meaning in your work? What value has that added to you, those you serve and your organisation? LEAVE A COMMENT.

If you would like to become the best leader, team or organisation you can be, Get in Touch for our world class consulting, coaching, development and speaking services. You can also subscribe to one of our online video series at www.lamplighter.com.au/viewStory/Video+Seminars or avail yourself of our other resources to help you grow and succeed.

Copyright 2013 Peter J. McLean. http://www.lamplighter.com.au, http://www.authenticspeaking.com.au and http://theleadershiplamplight.com

The Perils and Pain of Perfectionism

I admit it: My name is Peter, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

Though often used as the self-congratulatory response of job applicants (Interviewer: “What’s your most significant weakness?” Interviewee: “Oh, I’m a perfectionist. Everything has to be to an extremely high standard for me. I want my work to always be my best!!”), perfectionism can be a dastardly and debilitating habit. Procrastination, never-ending ‘near completion’ and unrealistic expectations of self and others can create toxic work environments.

This interesting news article (“Pressure to be perfect hurting musicians”), points to the physical pain, depression and performance anxiety suffered by classical musicians. This significant Australian study (see the original abstract here), demonstrates a significant relationship between depression and anxiety, perfectionism and physical pain in classical musicians, with 84% suffering performance pain at some stage and 50% reporting current pain. ‘Suffering for your art’ is the truth! It’s what most reasonable people have always thought is the by-product of all those tiger mums and sports dads.

One very interesting comment from Professor Kenny (who has created an inventory and scale for Musical Performance Anxiety) was that gifted young people had ‘had their identities foreclosed on them.’ That is, at a young age, everyone else decided who these young people should be – brilliant musicians – and they have followed that identity ever since. They never got the chance to be something else of their own choosing.

People and organisations get this wrong all the time – they seek after perfection and foreclose on their identities and productivity. Creativity, productivity and just plain life are messy and fluid. Although it can be really really great, you will never create the perfect system or the perfect result. Live with that. Accept it. Your neuroses will decrease exponentially, as will your pain – both psychological and physical. And if you find harsh, perfectionist task-masters in your organisations, have it out with them – results, not perfection, are what matter in organisations. Results that everyone can be proud of.

Perfectionism so often leads to nothing getting accomplished, because the law of ever diminishing returns means that once you pass the 80/85% mark, you’re spending ever-increasing amounts of time getting the last little bits just right. And that final .00005% is so horribly ducking and weaving from your ability to pin down. It prevents products from being launched and then refined (instead of being beaten to the punch by a lesser competing product), it prevents people from going for a job, it prevents people from being proud of their team, heck it even prevents people finding someone to love because nobody else is their version of ‘perfect.’

We don’t need everything to be absolutely ‘perfect’ for us to enjoy and thrive and for others to benefit. In fact, it would be pretty boring to be perfect, as human concepts of perfection require the elimination of deviation and variability. It has to be ‘just so’. That’s plain crazy.

The reality is that perfectionism is driven by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of loss. Fear of disapproval. Fear of being less.

Like me, become a recovering perfectionist. It’s a long time since I had the overwhelming desire to be perfectionist. I was the subject of psychological profile a number of years ago that said I could be more than 99%+ certain of something, but still not say it or commit to it, because I wasn’t 100% sure. Like Mr. Spock, my guesses were far better than most people’s deductions. Confronted with that on a psych profile (I mean, really, that’s sad when it comes out in a short assessment), I resolved to overcome that, and I have in many respects. But I do have to remind myself: get it out there. That’s more important.

Just get it done. You’ll be much happier and more successful and it will be less painful for everyone.

Stretch

A lot of the strengths-based literature and programs stops at: “utilise your strengths and don’t concentrate on weaknesses”. This leaves people with the impression that all you have to do is work solely with ‘what you’re good at.’  Unfortunately, as far as most of that literature is concerned, many in management and many in personal development, people actually take this advice seriously and end up with narrow parameters of individual and organisational capability. To put it another way, people and organisations are actively discouraged from growing.

One of our clients has said to us that when she took the “Strengths Finder” she found it depressing, because of the constrictions it seemed to place on her, the way it was phrased and the fact that, according to the strengths finder, she couldn’t do the kinds of work she had been doing very well for a long time and should not aspire towards the further growth she was aiming for. (By contrast, she felt very positive and encouraged when taking our Harrison Assessments work preferences profiling – which is strengths oriented, but doesn’t straightjacket people – and found it extremely productive and targeted for her workforce.)

In life, work and leadership we should aim to STRETCH: Stretch our abilities, our knowledge, our understanding, our compassion, our leadership, our connection with others and our ability to perform at our highest levels in our chosen endeavours. We can do this organisationally as well – endeavouring to further the capabilities, reach and impact of our teams and organisations.

To stretch, instead of merely identifying your ‘operational’ strengths, seek to understand the nature of your underlying gifts, talents and resources and what you need to bring to bear to reach a higher level. These may be internal or external resources. On a personal level they may be physical, intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual. On an organisational level, they may involve your people, processes and organisational resources – again, both internal and external. Find your reason, your purpose and then stretch towards achieving that purpose.

And don’t forget ‘serendipity’ in this process. Sometimes the opportunities will come because you have been stretching – without seeing what is up ahead and above – but once the opportunity comes, then you see how your new talents and skills can meet the opportunity.

In education, it has been well established that one of the primary enablers of high achievement is learner expectation – that is, what a learner expects to be able to accomplish and being pushed beyond that by a capable teacher, trainer, coach or mentor builds ever-increasing levels of expectation of achievement. One’s intrinsic motivation is critical to one’s achievement. If you expect to exceed your abilities and are pushed to, then you will achieve higher levels. If you expect to achieve little, then guess what: you will achieve little.

This is where leadership – your self-leadership and your leadership of others – is so important. As a leader, you can help people to create a success loop of achievement beyond normal expectations that can build to increasingly higher levels of performance and achievement.

I was fortunate to have a boss who was also a mentor to me when I was a young man at University in the US. When asking him about some opportunities that I had and was applying for, I sought his advice on what I should do. Should I stick with what I knew more, or challenge myself and try something that was far more scary? His response was simple, “Which one will help you grow more?” The answer was equally simple. Although I wasn’t accepted into the opportunity I was applying for, I kept aiming for what would help me to grow and have borne his question in mind throughout the years. By doing so, I have very personally been able to help thousands of people to also grow and achieve, have served and led in numerous industries, have had experiences that the vast majority of people only ever dream about and have shouldered the enormous challenge of leading and caring for my family through our trials with our disabled daughter. It wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t stretched myself over many years.

You can do it for yourself. Don’t accept that ‘this is where you will always be’, but challenge yourself – STRETCH – grow and achieve.

Free Sample Videos

Free sample videos of the Authentic Speaking® Video Series and the Gifted Leadership™ videos have been added to my blog and websites. View them here at www.lamplighter.com.au/viewStory/Video+Seminars or here on the blog. Even if you don’t subscribe, you can still benefit from a few tips in these samples!

If You’re Serious About Improving Your Leadership and Communication

Here’s a new message regarding the Performance Power-Ups” video series. Subscribe at www.lamplighter.com.au if you’re serious about improving as a leader, a communicator and as a professional. We’re up to Episode 17 of each series this coming week!

10 Positive Ways to Approach Feedback

I wrote in a previous post about negative reactions to feedback. I’m not writing in this post about how to construct feedback exercises, or whom to invite to provide formal feedback, but there are many opportunities and situations where we all receive feedback in our professional and personal lives – invited or uninvited. Here are 10 positive ways to approach feedback, many based on situations I have observed with my clients:

  1. Be excited to know what people think. One client and his team were excited, although a little trepidatious, about receiving feedback from their clients. I had interviewed a thorough and honest sample of their clients who ranged from delighted with the team through to clients who hated them and seemed a little unhinged. My client was excited to see the results anyway and the team’s anticipation helped them to accommodate and incorporate the feedback into improvement. We discussed the reasons for the negative responses from the haters, but didn’t just dismiss them – we used them as opportunities to set standards for the future to ensure that problems were avoided and negatives mitigated. But the team was also pleased to see what others had to say about them (unlike some of their colleagues in the same firm who avoided the entire process).
  2. Let feedback inform your behaviour and your thinking process, but not your self-esteem. Don’t judge your self-worth by the feedback that you receive from others. I know, it’s easier said than done, but if you base your value on what people say about you, then you become as blown about in the wind as a Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson, or just about any other major celebrity you care to name. They ‘feed’ off the next round of applause, sale, gig or concert and become depressed when they don’t receive it. The fans’ approbation becomes their value, instead of knowing their own inherent value as human beings. Feedback changes every single time, with every single group. The one frown on the smiley sheet becomes your focus, the rating of ’1′ on ‘Inspires others’ instead of the 4s and 5s becomes your bane. Don’t let feedback from some random person determine your worth or your direction. Know who you are through your actions in the world, your thoughts, your heart and through those who really know you and are themselves worthy.
  3. Look at how you can improve. One coaching client recently said, “I’m looking forward to this. But I hope they didn’t just say nice things – that’s all well and good, but I want to know where I can improve.” A healthy ego will say, “I know I’m good at such and such, but I also know I’m not perfect and want to improve.”
  4. Be accepting and non-argumentative with feedback. Accept that this is the opinion and judgement of the individuals or groups concerned. You can’t think for them, nor should you. Be courageous and say, “Okay, I can see that”, or “Well, I can’t see that right now, but I’ll try to see it their way and think on it.”
  5. Take the other’s perspective. Consider the source, the circumstances and the context, but do not discount out of hand. This approach may result in you discounting feedback from individuals who are perpetual snipers, backbiters and complainers. It may lead you to discount feedback from people who really don’t understand the situation. But if you put yourself in their shoes, you may also glean additional insights that you may not otherwise. Additionally, it may lead you to lend greater weight to certain feedback once you realise the source’s credibility, insight and wisdom. Plus, it’s the humane thing to do.
  6. Accept who you are, but don’t approve all behaviour. It was Carl Rogers who introduced the concept of ‘unconditional positive regard’ into counselling and psychotherapy. But he advocated acceptance of the person as an individual with intrinsic worth and value, not acceptance or approval of all behaviour. We should consider that for ourselves as well – we are who we are, but that doesn’t mean that all our behaviour is good, even when well-intentioned, nor do we have to continue behaving a particular way.
  7. Look for trends. When analysing feedback, I look for underlying trends that may indicate something else at work or an overarching issue. If the individual concerned is showing signs of lagging on work and letting down on standards, perhaps there is something at work in his or her personal life that is acting as a drag. A colleague of mine, Alan Weiss, tells how he was engaged to coach a leader in a downward performance trend. After commencing working with the client he noticed a pattern, continued to inquire and then referred the client for diagnosis and treatment of possible depression to the company’s Employee Assistance Program, because my colleague perceived that it may be the underlying problem. The referral led to treatment and successful recovery in the workplace. Don’t just accept surface behaviours and treat them all asymptotically. Underlying causes may be more powerful.
  8. Consider your values and beliefs, as much as your behaviour. Anyone who says that human beings act entirely consistently with their values and beliefs is a mug (to use the vernacular). The spirit is often willing, but the flesh all too weak. However, sometimes your behaviours need a change of underlying belief in order to be improved. Maybe you don’t spend time talking with subordinates because you believe it is a waste of strategic time, or time when you should be conducting high level business development. Perhaps you don’t spend time in thoughtful reflection or discussion each day because you believe that you are measured by your activity, not your results. Whatever it is, the underlying belief or where you place your value may need to change even more than the behaviour itself.
  9. Conversely, keep it simple stupid. Many solutions do not have to do with deeply rooted issues and beliefs. There’s an old wise counsellor’s bit of advice, that if a couple comes with marriage counselling needs because she gets upset with him not putting the clothes on the floor, that instead of spending forever analysing the deep-seated childhood reasons why he does that, instead ask “Would you be happy about putting them in a basket at the end of the bed?” “Yes, I would.” Case solved. A couple go away happy and it didn’t cost them $50,000 and 3 years of unsuccessful counselling. Same here folks.
  10. Act on it. One of my clients said, “I don’t like what other people say about me sometimes, but I don’t cry like a baby because they said it. I take it on the chin and try to do something about it.” He took some strong constructive criticism from me – in both oral and written form – in the case of the management of his company’s executive and general management and did his honest best to deal with the issues and change behaviours even when he disagreed, but could see how it would impact others. It was a positive, courageous example, admired by the peers who were in on the discussions.

There are other positive steps to approaching feedback, which I will not go into now. Even the way you construct a feedback exercise itself can be managed in an entirely positive, improvement-focused way, gaining you valuable input from people whose opinions and judgements will make a difference. But no matter where the source or when the occasion, take your feedback in a mature and healthy way, with a healthy perspective and you’ll be growing as an individual and as a leader.

Qualitative Feedback – Important Reactions to Avoid

Soliciting feedback for clients can be a fascinating exercise. I engage in qualitative feedback for many clients – both organisationally and individually. This feedback can be from internal staff, external stakeholders, partners, bosses, peers, clients, family and friends.

For a long time, I felt that asking for direct feedback from people – real, personal feedback – was one of the bravest things you could do if you wanted to objectively assess your self, your leadership and your performance. Then came the popularity of 360 feedbacks, usually in some kind of survey format. These have become trite ranking exercises and are easily dismissed for so many reasons that time would fail to tell (although I have written about a few of the problems with 360s before). Reading that people rate you, on average, as a 3.5 out of 5 on a vague quality of ‘provides constructive ideas for the team’ is hardly life-changing, motivating or even just plain clear. I certainly work with and examine 360 instruments and feedback, but I also conduct high value qualitative feedback.

As opposed to a trite number on a graph, qualitative feedback that

“You lock your door on all junior staff as they come to approach you for assistance and when you begrudgingly offer your assistance but then charge their clients by the hour (or by 8-15 minute segments) for having helped your junior, this is a disincentive for staff to seek assistance from seniors, damages the ability of your staff to develop and damages your client relationships”

can be a game-changer.

There are several typical negative reactions to qualitative feedback that we should avoid:

  1. Arguing the point. Really, it does no good. Accept the feedback. Could there have been justifications and reasons? Of course! But that does not change the fact that the other person’s perceptions are theirs and that, in life, perception is reality for those individuals. On a personal note, if your wife tells you that you are argumentative, it’s no good arguing that point (at least not right then, trust me – this is so wrong to do on so many levels).
  2. Telling everyone it’s just plain wrong. The head of a legal firm with whom I was working said, “This is b___s___” when confronted with evidence of people’s opinions of the leadership and functioning of the organisation. He just could not accept it. This, despite the fact that it was the opinion of 100% of the people (other than himself and another law partner) involved with the firm. He failed to adjust and, guess what, the firm failed as a whole. Not just because of this, of course, but his unwillingness to accept reality prevented his ability to change the course.
  3. Saying it was only limited to a specific instance. “It’s the only time I’ll do it,” or “I’ve only ever done it to her.” Perhaps. But what if it’s not just the once and it’s happened so much that people don’t even bother mentioning it any more?
  4. Justifying a particular instance. Related is the tendency to say, “Well, I had to do it that time,” or “That particular client was always such a pain and I had to deal with them that way and that’s why I didn’t do what I usually do, blah blah blah”. Again, one example does not demonstrate the point, but what if it comes from multiple sources? Or how do we know this is not the tip of the iceberg? What justifies you relinquishing your standards and values for “a particular instance”?
  5. Being self-defensive and not open to change. Related to all of the above, of course, is the issue of defensiveness – not being willing to accept reality because you have poor self-esteem or it damages your self-concept.
  6. Trying to identify the respondent in anonymous feedback processes. It may be interesting and it may provide context, but it’s too easy to use this to explain away feedback or, worse, to punish those individuals. In the case of one particular firm, after I had left (I was involved only in conducting an analysis of the workplace and unfortunately was not employed for the follow-through), the principals started calling staff into their offices and trying to find out who said what. It was threatening, intimidating and just plain stupid. People left, just as they should have. I would have too. On the other hand, even well-intentioned inquiry, “I wonder why he would have said that?” can end up leading you to try to identify every comment or example, which can be self-defeating. Even if it’s all positive but this has been set up as anonymous feedback, just try not to go there.
  7. Blaming the other party. Just saying that it’s their fault is really immature. There were at least two of you involved, so what was your part.
  8. Focusing on the negative and not the positive. How many times have you seen speakers or workshop leaders, or managers, or team leaders, or comedians, or entertainers, or teachers, or pastors, or politicians, or whomever react to the one person or the one negative thing by getting all down on themselves and beating themselves up over it? I run workshops all the time, I used to teach in schools (believe me, the instant responses of people in classrooms is enough to dent anyone’s self-esteem and is the ultimate form of professional feedback), I coach, I speak, I write, etc. etc. and I get comments about how this or that was not good. It’s too easy for us sensitive souls to look at that and say, “See, I’m lousy” and ignore the hundreds and thousands of comments, testimonials and results to the contrary. We’re human, there’s always room for improvement. But focus on all the good stuff coming your way and capitalise on it. A coaching client of mine recently said to me how great his feedback process was and that it was more valuable feedback and demonstration of his skills and competence than MBA courses or Harvard courses or other qualifications. This despite the suggestions for ways he could continue to improve and some comments about a few negatives. That’s a really positive approach to take and will serve him well.

There are quite a lot of other issues surrounding feedback processes – e.g., selecting appropriate and beneficial sources (the angry union member probably won’t be a useful evaluator of your performance as a manager, but will be a good source of information about how your actions have personally affected them and others), timing, intent and the nature of the feedback questions and conversation. For example, I conduct semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups – I will have some set questions, but follow a line of conversation and inquiry, particularly as I see trends emerging, in order to uncover further information. A poor set of questions in the hands of a skilled interviewer can become a goldmine of information. The converse is also true: the greatest questions in the world can be utterly useless in the hands of a poor interviewer (just ask any Telemarketer or Call Centre).

I’ve learned from my experiences how to prevent or avoid some of these reactions. Even when I had anticipated them, it’s sometimes not till you experience it that you find better ways to avoid it in the future. In other instances, I’ve learned how to manage them with clients and maintain focus. But for all of us, it’s important to realise that there are some reactions that we should simply put out of our minds and hearts. Asking for feedback is brave, so ‘suck it up’, take it on the chin and do your best.

I’ll write in another post about how you can respond positively to feedback processes.

Please add your comments on your feedback experiences.

To Whom Do You Turn for Models?

My wife and I have often shaken our heads in astonishment when people go to someone for parenting advice when the ‘guru’ has been divorced several times, is bitter, his/her kids are in rehab (or worse), so on and so on, but they say ‘Wow. They’ve got an awesome presentation or method for building a great relationship’, or ‘They’re a great counsellor and give excellent advice.’

The ‘Wolf from Wall Street’ goes around trotting out his trite ‘apology’ for ripping everyday people off for many millions of dollars and people go pay him to learn how to do business. A young fella straight out of business school touts his ’10 Rules to Build a Million Dollar Business’ and I wonder who is paying for the advice in the presentation, seeing as he has never built a million dollar business.

So I’ve been thinking about this in relation to those from whom we should seek advice. My general rule is that you should seek advice from someone who has been successful in that area. That is not to say that they can never have failed. Indeed, failure should be viewed as part of learning. Many a business leader who is currently über-successful has been bankrupted before – that comes with taking risks. Some people who are great parents, partners and family educators have had a significant failure such as divorce or problems with their children in the past. Many people who have become overburdened with debt can still give you good advice about money. Sometimes someone who has consistently been successful does not offer particularly insightful comments, advice or processes to help you because they have interrogated their own experience well.

The important distinction here between profitable and unprofitable advice is that people with integrity and valuable lessons acknowledge failures and how they have learned from them. Another distinguishing feature is that you should also see evidence that the advice itself bears positive fruit. Thus, if the ‘guru’ tells you that the best way to raise children is to let them be totally independent and receive no guidance and allow them to do anything they want and then you see that child wanting to basically divorce his parents and move out at age 13 (as has been happening with a very famous Hollywood celebrity as I write), then you look at the fruits of the advice and say, “I ain’t goin’ there!”

Unfortunately, too many people don’t take the time to look around them and evaluate the results of actions and decisions in other people’s lives. That’s my wife’s mantra (at least, one of them) to our girls: Look at those people’s lives and the results. Did that work for them?

Every situation is different and bosses, parents, coaches, teachers, ministers, gurus, professionals and friends can all have input and perhaps provide phenomenal guidance without having been through the same issues. Hey, I’m a consultant and an executive coach and I can’t pretend to have been through every situation my clients face, although I have been through a lot and I have both studied and learned from experience a lot about principles that work and principles that don’t. I investigate. I find out details. And I imaginatively apply principles to create solutions that work. But don’t ask me how to invest a hundred thousand dollars to create a hundred million. Go ask Warren Buffet that. I wouldn’t have a clue other than to say, “Choose wisely.” That’s part of having integrity.

In general, I turn to those whose lives and work demonstrate integrity and the kind of success I’m looking for. They become my models. The young fella may well have some good ‘rules’ that he got from a textbook, but I won’t be going gaga over them and I’ll be turning to someone with experience to navigate choppy waters. The ‘Wolf’ may well have valid insights into Wall Street, but I’ll turn to someone with integrity to know how to lead and serve clients. And the counsellor may have some good resources to point me to, but I’ll be turning for parenting and relationship role models to people whose marriage and family reflect the kind of family I want to have.

If you’re reading this, put your fingers to the keyboard (or pad) and tell me whom you turn to for your models – whether in business, relationships or general life.