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Executive Coaching

4 Ways to Give Feedback That Rips the Blinders Off

Feedback is something that we all know is extremely important, yet often we shoot from the hip. Where there should be leadership intentionality there is leadership immaturity.  How can you provide feedback that makes a difference? What if your goal is to provide feedback with enough impact people drop their “I’ve got it all together act” and start to see themselves as others see you them.  For this to happen you must become someone who can walk into a situation and see things that others do not see, giving people penetrating insight into the situation. 

There is a law firm in New York that has an interesting promotion process from being an associate to become a partner in the law firm.  Once you have been an associate for three years you can apply to become a partner. This is a panel interview process made up of current partners. If you are denied you must wait one year plus one day to re-apply. If you are denied the second time once again you must wait one year plus one day before reapplying.  If you are denied the third time you are terminated from the firm.  There was an associate who had made the three-year requirement and applied to become partner. He was denied. This was not a surprise as he anticipated this process to be challenging.  Over the next year he volunteered for additional pro bono work and was intentional with looking for cross-functional opportunities. He reapplied to become partner. He was denied the second time. Over the course of the next year he took on more international work. His heavy travel schedule cost him his marriage. His health was also deteriorating. He submitted for his third and final time to become partner. He was denied again and terminated.  As he was leaving with his belongings in hand he stopped at his friends office that was a partner on the panel interview team. He asked his friend if after the first interview they knew he wouldn’t become a partner? His friend replied, “Yes”.  He then asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that.”  The friend replied, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” The absence of meaningful feedback cost this employee his marriage, his health and his career.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have all found ourselves wanting to give meaningful feedback but didn’t because we did not want to hurt our friends feelings.

There are 4 guiding ideas for giving feedback so meaningful that it results in ripping the blinders off without making people resent you.

1.     Discuss your commitment to the employee at the very beginning – More often than not feedback is misunderstood not because of “what” you have said but “why” they think you have said it. It is imperative that you bring the skill set of backbone and heart into this conversation. Backbone being defined as the ability to call out the hard issue. Heart being defined as your ability to stay connected with the person even when the relationship is mired in conflict.

2.     Separate intent versus impact – A natural response to meaningful feedback is to excuse or explain their intent. Be crystal clear your feedback is based on observable impact and not questioning their intent. This sets the employee up to be curious and ultimately take responsibility for their impact.

3.     Be direct and let them know: “Now I am going to be challenging!” – By announcing that you are going to be challenging, people get the message but do not take it personally or resent you for it. Great leaders deliberately make challenging statements to jar people from their every day view and invite them to see things differently.

4.     Recognize them for who they are, not just for what they do – Great leaders go beyond recognizing just the task. Meaningful feedback connects their unique qualities of excellence to what they do. To acknowledge someone, a leader might say, “I want to recognize you not only for the work you put into your presentation, but also for your attention to detail. I can tell detail is important to you.”

Giving high-quality feedback has more to do with caring enough about people to tell it like it is that it has with having a particular skill or technique.
— Robert Hargrove, Executive Coach

Meaningful feedback involves having the ability to acknowledge people for who they are and what they are capable of and being willing to have the tough conversations. 



Got A Monkey On Your Back?

The Care and Feeding of Monkeys


Have you ever had a monkey on your back?  Did you invite the monkey to take the ride or did it get put there by a subordinate? 

This article was originally published in the November–December 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever.  Below are the five hard-and-fast rules governing the “Care and Feeding of Monkeys.”

Rule 1.

Monkeys should be fed or shot. Otherwise, they will starve to death, and the manager will waste valuable time on postmortems or attempted resurrections.

Rule 2.

The monkey population should be kept below the maximum number the manager has time to feed. Subordinates will find time to work as many monkeys as he or she finds time to feed, but no more. It shouldn’t take more than five to 15 minutes to feed a properly maintained monkey.

Rule 3.

Monkeys should be fed by appointment only. The manager should not have to hunt down starving monkeys and feed them on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

Rule 4.

Monkeys should be fed face-to-face or by telephone, but never by mail. (Remember—with mail, the next move will be the manager’s.) Documentation may add to the feeding process, but it cannot take the place of feeding.

Rule 5.

Every monkey should have an assigned next feeding time and degree of initiative. These may be revised at any time by mutual consent but never allowed to become vague or indefinite. Otherwise, the monkey will either starve to death or wind up on the manager’s back.

Insecure Leader or Secure Leader

Top Ten Differences

  1. Insecure leaders selectively divulge and withhold information. Secure leaders freely share information.
  2. Insecure leaders teach employees what they need to know. Secure leaders nurture employees to help them figure out what they need to know.
  3. Insecure leaders discourage risk taking. Secure leaders encourage calculated risk taking.
  4. Insecure leaders give instructions and expect them to be followed. Secure leaders give guidance and expect results.
  5. Insecure leaders demand respect. Secure leaders earn respect.
  6. Insecure leaders may acknowledge great performance but ensure they also get credit. Secure leaders spotlight great performance and don’t worry about getting credit.
  7. Insecure leaders hire and promote others who think like they do. Secure leaders hire and promote others who think differently than they do.
  8. Insecure leaders deflect failure. Secure leaders accept responsibility for failure.
  9. Insecure leaders promote those they can control. Secure leaders promote those they don’t have to control.
  10. Insecure leaders grow good doers. Secure leaders grow great leaders.

The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails

Over the years, I’ve observed just about every type of leadership development program on the planet. And the sad thing is, most of them don’t even come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders. In today’s column I’ll share the #1 reason leadership development programs fail, and give you 20 things to focus on to ensure yours doesn’t become another casualty.

According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “LeadershipTraining.” Here’s the thing – when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago.

This may be heresy to some – but training is indeed the #1 reason leadership development fails. While training is often accepted as productive, it rarely is. The terms training and development have somehow become synonymous when they are clearly not. This is more than an argument based on semantics – it’s painfully real. I’ll likely take some heat over my allegations against the training industry’s negative impact on the development of leaders, and while this column works off some broad generalizations, in my experience having worked with literally thousands of leaders, they are largely true.

An Overview of The Problem
My problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques. Moreover, training assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things. When a trainer refers to something as “best practices” you can with great certitude rest assured that’s not the case. Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.


The Solution
The solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favor of development. Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them. Where training attempts to standardize by blending to a norm and acclimating to the status quo, development strives to call out the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo. Training is something leaders dread and will try and avoid, whereas they will embrace and look forward to development. Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.

The following 20 items point out some of the main differences between training and development:

1. Training blends to a norm – Development occurs beyond the norm.

2. Training focuses on technique/content/curriculum – Development focuses on people.

3. Training tests patience – Development tests courage.

4. Training focuses on the present – Development focuses on the future.

5. Training adheres to standards – Development focuses on maximizing potential.

6. Training is transactional – Development is transformational.

7. Training focuses on maintenance – Development focuses on growth.

8. Training focuses on the role – Development focuses on the person.

9. Training indoctrinates – Development educates.

10. Training maintains status quo – Development catalyzes innovation.

11. Training stifles culture – Development enriches culture.

12. Training encourages compliance – Development emphasizes performance.

13. Training focuses on efficiency – Development focuses on effectiveness.

14. Training focuses on problems  - Development focuses on solutions.

15. Training focuses on reporting lines – Development expands influence.

16. Training places people in a box – Development frees them from the box.

17. Training is mechanical – Development is intellectual.

18. Training focuses on the knowns – Development explores the unknowns.

19. Training places people in a comfort zone – Development moves people beyond their comfort zones.

20. Training is finite – Development is infinite.

If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them. I have always said it is impossible to have an enterprise which is growing and evolving if leadership is not.


Get the Most Out of Executive Coaching

(Excerpts from Steven Berglas article)

What should you do if you think you want to change and, like so many of your peers, put your faith (and a huge financial commitment) in a coach? Is it possible to develop an authentic commitment to executive coaching through sheer willpower alone? No. But what you can do is develop a mindset — i.e. new “automatic” cognitive messages — that will help you counter your own resistance to change.

What follows are the exercises I use most often to help new clients initiate coaching with the best mindset possible. If, prior to the onset of coaching you experience the attitude adjustments they are designed to foster, the change process should be profoundly less anxiety- and resistance-provoking for you than it is for those who dive in unprepared.

1. Ask yourself, “Cui bono?”

The best way to reduce the possibility of being stung by an executive coach’s constructive critical feedback is to remind yourself that it is (a) not ad hominem and as such, (b) comparable to the club pro’s efforts to correct your slice. To do this with ease, learn to employ the Latin phrase “Cui bono?” — literally, “as a benefit to whom?” — after each critique you receive. The rational portion of your brain knows that no competent coach would gratuitously put you down. Now you need to train the more primitive, more reactionary parts of your brain to think that way too. By making “Cui bono?” the mantra you bring to assessment sessions with your coach, you can learn to accept that any and all feedback from him or her is intended to be helpful, not hurtful.

2. Be sure you wouldn’t rather hire a cheerleader than a coach.

Many consultants and coaches know that they can build lucrative client bases by treating protégés the way Little League coaches deal with their pre-teen charges: Everything the kid does evokes a “good job” or “atta boy!”

The problem with an automatic “good job” reaction is that it is useless and often — even by pre-teens — seen for what it is: Balm for under-developed egos. An 11-year-old with burgeoning self-esteem would much rather hear “keep your eye on the ball” after striking out than “good job,” but if you want to hear cheering regardless of how you perform, caveat emptor. An ethical coach doesn’t bring pom-poms to meetings with clients, so hire to your needs. 

3. Learn the difference between participation and commitment.

Having spent 30 years as a psychotherapist and coach, I can assure you that acting the role of a “participant in a change process” is not nearly the same as being committed to actually changing yourself. Many people claim to be involved in a change process when, in fact, they are holding their true selves in abeyance. 

Coaching cannot change you one iota unless or until you’re really committed — until you have skin in the game. Before I work with a client who needs to make major changes, I share the aphorism my baseball coach once told me to drive home the distinction between authentic commitment vs. going through the motions: “There’s a huge difference between participating in baseball and being committed to it; it’s like a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken participates in the breakfast. The pig, on the other hand, was fully committed.”

Since you won’t change unless you really want to, and nothing — not the highest-priced coach or public declarations about your intention to change (which, presumably, will humiliate you if you fail) — will help you to succeed, it behooves you to learn how to thwart your worst tendencies in advance of tackling change. This is what cartoonist/philosopher Walt Kelly, in his possum persona,Pogo, was referring to when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” If you accept this fact of life, coaching — and every other change process you initiate — will become surprisingly simple.