The inspiration for the cartoon above came from a situation occurring in my office one morning several decades ago. I could hardly wait to get to work as I had yet another of my endless new ideas and wanted to share it with my team.
“Urgent meeting,” I said to my staff. “My office, now.”
They dutifully filed in, dropping everything else they were working on, and sat at attention.
“I had this fabulous idea, and I want to tell you about it,” I began, and then blathered on for a few minutes. When I finished, I asked them, “Well? What do you think? Be honest!”
The usually noisy group was quiet. I remember a lot of blinking eyes looking back at me for a while. The newest member of the team finally spoke up.
“You’re telling us that you think your idea is brilliant, and now you want us to give you honest feedback…and you’re the boss?”
A senior member of the team guffawed. Someone else giggled, and then, we all cracked up.
Apparently, I wasn’t looking for honest feedback. I wanted them to tell me what a brilliant idea it was. Only, as it turns out, it wasn’t such a hot notion, and (as usual) would have meant piles of extra work since it wasn’t in the plan with which we had all agreed.
When one person called me out—without much concern for the boss’s ego I might add–we were all spared from a massive, foolish, group-think decision based on my creativity gone unleashed and my role as the authority figure.
But the deeper lesson here is care is needed when asking for feedback. A climate of trust has to be present before anyone is willing to be honest about anything.
Feedback assumes various forms: negative, positive, constructive, and useless (insulting and suggestions for kissing unmentionable body parts, too, but that’s another post). There are some advantages of giving and receiving feedback. I learned these benefits when I received honest, direct, caring but no-nonsense assessments of my ideas or leadership. The few people in my life brave enough to confront me with behaviors contradictory to my stated values taught me the most.
I also learned the benefits a great deal more when I began to give honest, direct, and caring feedback. Most people want feedback, and when given correctly, they can learn and grow from it. When given incorrectly, feedback can be and often is, destructive and disrespectful. The bottom line: it backfires, and you don’t get the results you want.
Further complicating this environment of truth, however, is if you’re the boss, it’s doubtful anyone has ever been or ever will be entirely honest. It’s not how we’re wired. The U.S. culture does not embrace the one so frequently found in Asia, “Never speak while the father is speaking.” Regardless, we believe authority demands respect. She that has the power is the boss. So…respect her ideas, dummy!
It’s up to the leader to set the example for proper giving, asking for and receiving honest feedback and the culture where people can trust they won’t suffer punishment for being honest. The words you choose, the tone, the facial expression, the body language and your record—all convey either directly or indirectly whether we want the truth, half the truth or flattery, and obsequiousness.
What kind of climate do you present to your team when asking for feedback: One that promotes honest feedback or one that encourages sycophantic babble?