I was recently amidst a small group of executive leaders who were exploring best practices about giving feedback for those we are leading in our organization. The heart of the matter was very fruitful and the leaders in the room were equally yoked towards a genuine desire to mentor and change lives for the better. When it comes to giving honest feedback with those you are closest to, it can be a messy ordeal; even if your heart is in the right place. As we vulnerably explored successes, failures, and drew conclusions, it dawned on me what intimate ground we were on. We were exploring amazing opportunities to value and love life’s most precious treasures… the people in our lives.
Thousands of songs, poems, tag lines, and societal mottos revolve around loving each other. Obviously love is a loaded word and its connotations reside within the different archetypes of our many relationships, but in general, being in a posture to give honest feedback with only the motive to help another grow closer to their fullest potential might be the most selfless form of love there is. This type of love does not come naturally and for that reason, it often takes us out of our comfort zone. It takes practice and we must engage wisdom from other great leaders in order to do it effectively and fully in a posture of selflessness.
I am not good at giving honest feedback. I like to be liked. I like to create environments that are comfortable and people enjoy. Amidst my juvenile leadership schemas of the past, I have not embraced the opportunity for the tough feedback. Hindsight reveals I missed those opportunities to love because I did not feel equipped and I was not ready to sacrifice my short term perceptions for the long term betterment of another. I’m done with that pattern and am convicted to embrace putting myself out there to give truth when it is 100% clear.
As I feverishly took notes from the mentors and peers in that group, I thought of the many circumstances I had cowered to not give great feedback. I was able to remember the few times I had given it and could identify the life change that resulted. The times I was effective, I had intuitively identified a common denominator: I had not feared another, yet feared for another.
Sympathy and empathy are very different. If you break your leg and I have never broken my leg, I can sympathize. If I had also broken my leg in the past, I can empathize because I can really understand the circumstances of your tribulation. We all have fear; therefore we are able to empathize with another who has fear. We may not be able to identify with their exact fear, but we have the ability to identify with the feeling of fear.
In almost every scenario when you give feedback in a relationship, it will either be repelled or considered with an element of fear. If my wife tells me I’m not meeting her needs in an area of our marriage, I have fear of marital failure. If I hear from my mentor that I’m not being the best version of myself, I fear I could lose a key relationship. If I hear from my child that I’m not modeling what I’m saying, I fear they may grow up with my bad habits.
By digging deep into the fear I experience when receiving feedback, it has helped me see that I need to empathize with others fear when I’m giving feedback.
Organizationally, you as a leader have the responsibility and privilege to help build into others. If you are in a supervisor relationship and you are giving feedback, the person receiving that feedback has some sort of fear. It might be of getting fired, it might be of failure, it might be of losing your respect or it could be something completely different. I now am conscious to empathize with the fear of the person whom I am giving feedback. This awareness has helped me mimic giving feedback in a way that increases the propensity of diffusing fear and instilling more love. Giving feedback in a posture of love and selflessness is a catalyst for true life change.
As I am embracing this and other core fundamentals of loving those I lead, I am getting better at embracing the challenge of giving effective feedback. By doing so, I’m better aligned to my life’s hope to genuinely treasure the people around me. I’m grateful to be bold and no longer fear others, yet fear for another.
Please let me know how you are embracing the folks you get to lead so we can all learn together.