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The 1 Thing Holding Leaders Back From Being Better (It Takes a Lot of Guts)

If you can develop this critically important skill, you can be a great leader.

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BY Shawn Doyle - 14 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is one skill holding leaders back from being better. I will warn you, it takes some guts. The one thing keeping leaders from being effective is simple but also complicated, because it involves the perception of how leaders think it will be perceived.

What is holding leaders back? The reality is they are not willing to be honest when giving people feedback.

When I ask them why they don't the answers are interesting in what they reveal:

  • "I don't want to create conflict."
  • "I don't want to hurt their feelings."
  • "They work hard, and I don't want them to feel bad."
  • "If I give them honest feedback they may not work as hard."

When I was a vice president working in Corporate America, I had 16 people reporting to me, and I reviewed the performance evaluations each manager wrote for their direct reports.

When I was reading one evaluation, and it said: "Jim is doing an excellent job." I was puzzled because we had talked numerous times about the performance problems Jim was having.

When I asked the manager, he told me "Jim works hard; I wanted to give him credit for his work."

My response was "Yes, but here is the issue--he is not doing an excellent job, just an okay job. Why would we say excellent when he isn't? "Many leaders struggle with this issue.

Here are the myriad of problems when we are not honest with the team members:

They can't grow if they don't know.

If as a leader, we don't give people honest feedback, then they can't improve. The best way to help people grow is to provide them with honest and direct feedback to help them get better at what they do. We also have to tell them we are giving them coaching and feedback to help them.

We are doing them a disservice if we're not being honest.

If we give someone feedback that isn't true, we are giving that person the wrong impression. Then if the employee gets a different manager later on and that manager does give them candid feedback, then they are confused by the honest feedback because the feedback they had before was not accurate.

That is very unfair to that person. I often facilitate presentation skills programs, and I always tell the group. "I am going to give you honest feedback on what you do well and what you need to improve. If I am not honest with you- then you can't get better at presenting."

We don't position the feedback appropriately.

We should let our team members know that we are committing to their development. Developing and growing each team member is in my opinion, an obligation of leadership.

Great leaders invest time and effort in the growth and development of each person on the team. The best manager I ever reported to told me when I started that he was always going to work on helping me get better. He said sometimes I would like it and sometimes I wouldn't, but it was all designed to help me get better at work and home.

To be a better leader commit to the following:

  • Commit to each team member's professional and personal development.
  • Meet with them and tell them you are making that commitment.
  • Be honest and forthright with feedback on what they do well and what they need to improve.
  • Tell each person why you are honest with feedback and how it will help them.
  • Explain to them what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • Have an open door policy where team members feel comfortable discussing concerns with you when they have them.

As former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch once said "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."

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