Monthly Archives: May 2016

Feedback and Assessment

Leaders who possess a developmental bias understand and practice providing feedback and assessment. When delivered wisely, this feedback is a precious investment for a leader’s development.

Why is it that so many people when hearing that their supervisor wants to see them will immediately wonder, “What have I done wrong?” Or when formal time is scheduled for the annual review, there is dread?

The tones of such conversations are set by the posture of the supervisor with the leader. When leaders at such meetings are primarily told what they have done wrong, no matter how nicely couched in affirmations, they will naturally view these meetings as a necessary evil.  However, when leaders emerge from such meetings with a sense that their supervisor is on their side and even after developmental opportunities are discussed, there is a confidence that the way forward will be better.  These become positive and desirable encounters.

What kind of feedback has been helpful for you?  What feedback was memorable in a positive way?  What feedback have you received that was of a negative nature but was presented in a way that you could embrace and utilize for your growth?

In a June 2014 Harvard Business Review article on “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations” research showed what happens in the brain when conversations are either positive or negative. In both cases a hormone is produced that affects our thinking and emotions.  Negative feedback results in shutting down the thinking portion of the brain and triggers protective behaviors that make one more sensitive and reactive.  Positive feedback elevates one’s ability to communicate and collaborate. The research concluded that managers and supervisors tap into positive feedback by expressing concern, speaking truthfully, encouraging creativity, and being open to difficult conversations.  Surely this is doable!

Here are some suggestions for how to give feedback when meeting with a leader:

  • Begin with an actual and recent experience to address.
  • Explain what kind of leadership was expected and what resulted.
  • Ask what went well and worthy of repeating? What did not go well and should be avoided?
  • Ask what would one do differently if the experience could be redone?
  • Overall, what can be learned about yourself and how you relate to others?
  • After allowing the leader to debrief on an experience, ask permission to share some observations.

Depending on cultural background and personality, the degree of affirmation before suggested adjustments should vary. Some people prefer to be told in a direct way and others will miss the learning when too much directness is given.

In their 2014 excellent book, Thanks for the Feedback, authors Stone and Heen provide a research-based approach for how to both give and receive feedback. If this is a needed growth area you will find much practical help. “We need evaluation to know where we stand, to set expectations, to feel reassured or secure. We need coaching to accelerate learning, to focus our time and energy where it really matters, and to keep relationships healthy and functioning. And we need appreciation if all the sweat and tears we put into our jobs and our relationships are going to feel worthwhile.” (p. 35) Feedback is an essential tool when leading with a developmental bias.

Periodic assessments or performance reviews are also an ideal time to help a leader develop. It is a great gift when a person has someone who will speak truth in love.

Some interaction on past performance is needed for concrete discussions but the purpose of reviews should be more forward looking than backward. Development is for increased contribution to an existing role as well as for a potential future role. There is never an end to life-long learning.

Jesus provided feedback and assessment for His disciples. What would you say were the top three areas He sought to develop within them so they could succeed after He was gone? Any study of the Gospels will uncover three core arenas of learning: Belief, Advance of the Gospel, and Glory of God. What we read in Acts and the Epistles tells us that the disciples developed well through the feedback and assessment they received.

Application: Who can you invite to give you feedback?




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Developmental Dialogue

Building upon the helpful model of experiential learning in the last blog is the leadership skill of facilitating a developmental dialogue. Such a dialogue is vital to nurturing learning in others and leading with a developmental bias.

Although it is difficult to find these principles applied between Jesus and the disciples, they can be seen in the early church. In Acts 6 with the appointment of deacons and in Acts 15 when the Jerusalem Council mandated a few essential practices for new converts, there was a developmental dialogue so agreed upon practices could be performed.

Every person accepting a role or task would benefit by knowing the answers to these questions from her/his supervisor:

  1. What am I tasked to do? (responsibility)
  2. What does it look like when the task is done well? (expectations)
  3. How can I get help when needed? (support)
  4. How will I know if I am on track? (feedback)

Once there is agreement concerning the responsibility (hopefully with outcomes as clear as possible) along with access to the support and resources available, there can be ongoing dialogue to ensure both success for the project and satisfaction for the leader. A wise leader and worker will embrace, yes, even demand such a dialogue.

In modern terms and processes, consider the benefits of these conversations:

1. Discuss the job description and primary outcomes for which you agree to be held accountable. Seek to differentiate the major responsibilities (big rocks) from those that might be easy and helpful but are not determinative for success. Seek to understand the scope of responsibility (including what not to focus upon) and the authority given to hopefully accomplish the task.  Many a leader has regretfully learned after accepting a responsibility that there was little or no accompanying authority and frustration resulted.

2. Negotiate what success would look like in a way that requires faith but is not presumptuous. Tasks that require faith both please God and stretch the leader. Faith can be seen as something that is out of reach but not out of sight—you know you cannot accomplish the task without God’s active involvement but you are not presuming upon God to engage in a way that is not promised.  Either the leader or the supervisor can lack faith and both need to agree to something more honoring to God.  As much as is possible, picture and articulate what the final and intermediate outcomes look like.  Once agreed upon, milestones can be a powerful guide to monitor progress.

3. Honestly share where you are competent and where you would benefit from development. No one is omni-competent. There is no shame in admitting from self-awareness where you have developed strengths for your task and where you lack the skill and confidence to effectively serve.  Then prioritize developmental opportunities to grow.  Positioning yourself for success honors God and brings enriching satisfaction.

It is easy to assume the good intentions of a supervisor and easier yet to avoid awkward questions. However, the best time to establish a commitment to mutual understanding is when beginning a new role or assuming new responsibility.  Initiate developmental dialogues with those whom you serve and with those to whom you report.

Next blog: Feedback & Assessment

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