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The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

Week Three: Hour 1

Why you need to prioritise feedback

By Paul

Here’s a brief story about an insight I gained a few years ago into the importance of feedback. 

“I was taking part in a leadership development programme with managers from a wide range of business sectors. In the first five minutes, our group of twenty was told in no uncertain terms to expect a week which would be “feedback-intensive”; the journey we were embarking on could be uncomfortable.

“The programme then took us through a rich range of experiences, starting with a simulation. We spent a day running a well-conceived manufacturing company at a turning-point in its strategic direction. Although we needed to take some substantive business decisions, the learning was entirely about our behaviours. How we established and developed working relationships, how we attended to values and culture in the part of the company we ran, and how effective others perceived our leadership to be – this was the stuff of the feedback we’d be told to expect.

“I was asked to write feedback notes on each of the other six people in my team, each one of which had to be evidenced by three or four examples of behaviour or language in specific situations. What was more, in every case we had to describe the perceived impact for each example on ourselves or on others.

“The next day we each had a 25-minute feedback round. The quality of this feedback was phenomenal. It was as far removed as it’s possible to be from a cursory slice of constructive criticism sandwiched between layers of appreciation.

“I heard one of my colleagues telling me that the first thing I’d done was to “spark an energy to start”. I was ready to listen to what was to come.

“What followed was the most honest, direct feedback I had ever heard. One colleague with whom I had formed a successful bond described how this had worked for him, and it became clear that he felt we had connected with a strong degree of emotional intelligence.

“The hardest thing to listen to was from a person I’d been line-managing in the simulated company. I knew deep inside that I had not prioritised spending as much time with this colleague as I could have done. What she told me was so forthright, backed up with plentiful evidence, and spoke a truth about how I managed people that nobody had fed back to me before. It changed how I behave with colleagues. It made me focus on being truly present for those I’m fortunate enough to lead.”

What she told me was so forthright…and spoke a truth about how I managed people that nobody had fed back to me before.

This worked because in all cases the feedback was based on what I had done on specific occasions which I could remember. The other colleagues involved told me about the effect what I’d said and done had on them. 

Your responsibility to be proactive 

You know how disconcerting it is if you’re telling someone about some work you’re really proud of, and they do nothing to acknowledge this?  

At the very least, you might wish the person you were speaking to could be more attentive. At worst, it can feel like a terrible snub just to be ignored.  

When you’re working remotely, radio silence can be even more disconcerting. From a distance, however comforting it may be to be in familiar home surroundings, it can be impossible to fathom what anyone else thinks and feels about the quality of your work and your contributions to the team – unless they tell you!  

As someone leading teams while working from home, the onus is on you both to provide and to seek out feedback.  

Your activity

How does my story resonate with your own experience, either of giving or receiving feedback?  

Take 5 minutes to make a note of all the barriers which can impede effective feedback in your practice as a leader. Write these down the left-hand side of a sheet of paper. 

Now use the right-hand of the paper to record how you might flip each of these barriers so that they become enablers. 

For example, a barrier of ‘Not having enough time to meet people one-to-one’ could transform into an enabler which states ‘Use remote working conversations as opportunities for feedback by setting aside 10 minutes in each of them specifically for feedback’. 

Resources

A selection to read, watch or listen to, to help find a new perspective.


Dr Paul Gentle

Paul is the Academic Director at Invisible Grail. A leadership expert, Paul has dedicated the last twelve years to creating and delivering leadership development programmes in higher education.