To be an effective leader you need to accept the responsibility – and understand the necessity – of delivering constructive feedback, however uncomfortable it may be.
Despite having served in the British Army for 10 years, I’m deeply uncomfortable with conflict. My drive to maintain harmony in all aspects of life is so strong that I’ll readily make personal sacrifices in the interest of avoiding any form of conflict.
It’s easy to put a positive spin on our shortcomings, whether that be as a leader, team member, partner or parent. I consider myself to be pretty self-aware, but we all have blind spots and truths that we don’t want to accept.
For a long time, I told myself that my drive for harmony was a strength that contributed to my success as a leader. It allowed me to build strong, trusting teams. I now believe that was true for less than 50% of the time.
Yes, a drive for harmony has undoubtedly helped me build, lead and develop some truly great teams. It has also slowed me down and caused progress to stall.
We all have blind spots and truths that we don’t want to accept.
At worst, it has created some beasts that had to be tackled head-on many miles down the road, leaving everyone involved needlessly bruised and battered. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about…
It’s the minor issue that you ignore for fear of giving what felt like slightly uncomfortable feedback. This in turn leads to a gradual slipping of standards - initially with one person, then the team, department or even the entire organisation.
When it eventually becomes too much, we look to blame anyone but ourselves. And when we are forced to act, those that we lead respond with utter shock because it seems as though we’ve gone straight from “it’s all fine” to the “nuclear option”.
I recently watched Kim Scott talk about radical candour and it immediately struck a chord with me. It spoke directly to my strongest held beliefs about the job of a leader and what it means to be a leader. Kim says that it is not just a leader’s job to provide candid feedback, but their moral obligation.
This led to an uncomfortable personal realisation that I’m determined to act upon.
My avoidance of conflict means that I’ve not always been true to my core beliefs about leadership. More shocking for me was the realisation that in avoiding some of the difficult conversations or uncomfortable feedback, I’ve been letting down those that I lead.
A leader’s job to provide candid feedback, but their moral obligation.
I’ve not truly been of service to them because I’ve avoided, played down or minimised valuable feedback that they could have acted upon.
But it’s not just the individuals I’ve let down, it’s the teams I’ve led too. And I suspect that you may be in the same boat as me.
Lead by example
If you’re not leading the way and becoming a role model for radical candour, you’ll never develop a genuine high-performing team.
If those in your team are not willing to face into the difficult conversations and engage in healthy debate around the most important issues, you’ll always have sub-optimal outcomes. Conversations will be restrained and vapid as people will always hold back from saying what really needs to be said.
This means that we have to choose between two paths:
We can take the easy road, turning away from our short-comings, and pretend we haven’t seen them; we can continue to be average, leading an average team.
Or, we can take the harder, less travelled route. We can take a long hard look in the mirror to identify all of our potential weaknesses and then boldly step out of our comfort zone to act upon them.
In doing so, we can truly be of service to those that we have been given the responsibility to lead and serve. We can set off on the journey of becoming a great leader who unlocks the full potential of those around them.