One of the 4Sight team members recently shared a memory of the first professional evaluation she ever received. Here it is in her words:
I was a 22-year-old, first-year teacher. I was starry-eyed and passionate, determined to be the best teacher these twiggy little high school freshmen had ever encountered. About halfway through the first semester, it came time for the dreaded Principal Evaluation. The one where your boss sits in the back of your classroom while you attempt the best teaching performance of your career (and your fate rests in the hands of 26 14-year-olds).
It was scheduled in advance. I knew when it was coming and was sure to be as prepared as possible. The best, most engaging lesson plan, a reminder to my students of the classroom contract we had and how I expected them to behave, my most professional outfit. At the end of the class period, when my students and my boss had exited the classroom, I hesitantly walked back to my desk to see the carbon copy of the evaluation form marked with all fives (the highest score) and a note that said, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Had I done a good job? Yes.
Was I prepared and qualified? Yes.
Was part of me (the naive and people-pleasing part) relieved and a little smug? Also, yes.
BUT was there ANYTHING I could’ve done better? Certainly.
Did I grow from the experience of receiving no constructive feedback? Not at all.
As leaders, we can often be the first to notice when things need to change. Something’s not quite right and we know just the tweak that could make it better. Someone on our team is not performing to the fullest of their potential, and we can see just how they’re getting in their own way.
But we can also be the most reluctant to engage the feedback process. Honestly, it can be inconvenient, it can cause awkwardness in our relationships with those we lead, and it can just be downright uncomfortable.
What can we do, as leaders, to lean into the moments when our team members are relying on us to provide the coaching and feedback that truly help them achieve beyond what they even realized was possible?
3 Questions to Ask BEFORE Delivering Feedback
1. Is this a Sunday conversation or a Monday conversation?
At least that’s how I asked it in my head when I was leading in a church context. Successful feedback is often dependent on timing. The timing of delivering constructive criticism can make or break whether or not it is received well and is subsequently helpful.
Perhaps it can be rephrased and applied more widely this way: “Is this in-the-moment or in-a-meeting feedback?” If you seize an in-the-moment opportunity to coach someone, it’s critical that the coaching can actually be applied and positively change outcomes in real time. If that’s not possible or if the feedback will derail the rest of the day and cause unintended consequences, it should wait. A meeting the next day is still a prime opportunity to shift, learn, and grow for the future.
2. Is this a public or a private conversation?
Your awareness of your team’s capacity and personalities is key in informing whether you can approach them in public with a “What if we tried…” suggestion or if the more effective approach would be in a one-on-one, more private conversation. Often, starting with the question, “Tell me about why you decided on this approach. Are you open to some feedback?” is the disarming opportunity for a teachable moment.
You’ll never regret protecting a team member’s dignity by choosing to give feedback privately. And there is always the possibility that you can share your learnings together with a wider audience later.
3. Is this conversation going to change anything?
For feedback to be successful, it must be actionable. Resist the urge to correct based on preference or intuition until you can articulate how a different choice would have yielded a better outcome. Sometimes you know, but can’t quite express it. But you’ll do more damage than good if you can’t redirect the efforts. It’s the difference between criticism and coaching.
In times like these I remind myself of a conviction I hold, one that’s not necessarily fun and flashy, but one that serves as an anchor when I would sometimes rather avoid the needed conversation: “I’m not here to make them happy. I’m here to make them better.”
One of the most consistent sacrifices of leadership is that of being liked. What you’ll find, though, as you engage and build a healthy feedback culture is that the mutual respect that results is far more valuable than a surface-level peace. These are the everyday behaviors that have a disproportionate impact on your organization’s culture.
By asking yourself these questions, you’ll begin to build a feedback culture rooted in trust and clarity.
** Are You New to The 4Sight Group? **
As leaders, we’re full of ideas and initiatives. We see potential and opportunity all around. We can almost taste the outcome, but often we get bogged down by how we’ll get from here to there.
The “how” can be overwhelming and discouraging, so we give up on our goals or fail to build a plan to help us achieve them.
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Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.