A Culture of Directness

I’m usually a “glass half full” kind of guy.  I’d much rather focus on the positive than be dragged down by the negative.  That’s been helpful in keeping my blood pressure low and minimizing the stress lines on my forehead, but I am not sure it is the most effective way to lead.

I learned a while ago that by sugar-coating negative feedback, I was unintentionally diminishing the validity of the issue at hand.  It also meant I was working harder to make the other person feel “ok” than they were working at fixing the problem.  I’ve been working on this, however I am far from perfect at it yet.

But what if we practiced being direct in the face of problems?  Or how to handle and process constructive feedback?

In his book, The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni suggests that in a high-functioning team, members can confront difficult situations–even offer criticism–without fear that it will result in hurt feelings, resentment or push-back. 

For a couple years, I’ve been waiting for that moment when members of my team would suddenly be able to openly give and receive criticism without it feeling uncomfortable.  I’ve seen glimpses of this here and there, and that is a huge win.  However, it is not across the board. 

As I reflected on this, I realized that telling someone to incorporate what they’ve read in a book isn’t enough–we have to own it ourselves first.  We need to establish a pattern about asking for direct and bold feedback so that others trust it is safe.  

So my challenge to my team and myself in the coming year is to be deliberate about seeking feedback.  Begin or end conversations with open-ended questions about what could have gone better.  Be conspicuous about the desire to hear others’ opinions about decisions, actions, and so on.  I believe that if we focus first on ways we demonstrate being an ideal team member ourselves, we will simultaneously cultivate the trust necessary to affect the culture.

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