Leadership and Day-to-Day Courage

For sheer mass, you could do worse than to collect all the checklists recommended by this or that leadership guru. Many try to define the “nine essentials” of, or the “19 keys” to, or the “eleven must-haves” for… effective leadership.

There’s truth in the best of those lists, but I have a number to suggest as well:

• Wisdom.
• Courage.
• The will to act.

This post touches on courage; later posts will address the other two.
In bet-the-company and/or bet-my-career decisions the need for courage is often clear. So let’s consider the less obvious courage required of leaders day-to-day, in tasks as common as performance coaching.

The heart of coaching is feedback, defined here as information that influences job performance. Feedback’s power is documented, and it’s free. Yet Americans at work too often report feeling shortchanged, unclear on the answers to a pair of core questions:

1.) What’s my job (specifically)?
2.) How am I doing?

Recognition of good work seems especially scarce.
Too often, the unhappy sequence seems to be: (1.) People generally prefer coaching to overly direct leadership, (2.) feedback is essential to leaders’ coaching, and yet, (3.) too often, the feedback never arrives.
What gives?
In my opinion, often the answer is courage.
Some leaders are candid enough to acknowledge their fear of “pushback” from those receiving direct feedback. And pushback is a factor.
But the driving idea is even simpler: The feedback never gets delivered! The “recipients” aren’t recipients at all; they never get the chance to receive – or to react.

It does take courage to deliver corrective feedback. I can attest from my own role as a coach; straight talk can be tough to deliver.
But while you can and should think over your tone or timing, there is no real alternative. Mark Twain put it plainly, if harshly. “A half-truth,” he said, “is the most cowardly of lies.”
If you reach that point in your own coaching, especially if you need to be more direct, remember:

• Corrective feedback can be the most valuable.
• Straight talk, often called the truest test of real friendship, can also help build a strong work relationship.
• If you were the person being coached, wouldn’t you want the truth?

Ineffective feedback can install an artificially low ceiling on job performance. The leader-coach who overcomes his or her fear of straight talk, who delivers corrective feedback clearly but calmly, helps remove that ceiling.

A few resulting suggestions:
Listen. The ranks of omniscient leaders are thin!
Listen to ideas, struggles, reactions… whatever the other person offers. You may learn some things. Or you may disagree and need to say so, but not yet. First make sure you understand, and that the person you’re coaching can see it.
Overall, make your feedback specific, current, balanced, brief and clear. Communicate with confidence, but don’t overwhelm.
Equally, avoid a hesitant, almost apologetic approach that undercuts your credibility.
If you haven’t quite done so already, face your fear. Respect and trust those you work with enough to give honest, direct feedback. The actual consequences of well-delivered corrective feedback rarely equal the imaginary ones.

Here’s one way to start:
Begin (or resume) asking for feedback from those same direct reports. Topic: Your leadership – what you do best, and what you could improve.
Do this, stick with it, and you more fully open the door to honest feedback and clear communication as a productive way of life in your relationship, team, department, division or organization.

1 comment
  1. Sandy said:

    Like the article and totally agree. Relationship work best in the workplace with solid, honest communication. We cannot have valid expectations of others if we do not communicate with authenticity. Thinking that really goes for ALL relationships! Thanks for sharing.

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