The higher up the ranks you climb in an organization, the less honest feedback you receive from peers. And one common bit of advice many leaders could benefit from is, ironically, how to effectively deliver feedback to their team. I spoke with Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, for my Leadership: A Master Class about authentic leadership. Below is a snapshot of our conversation around cultivating a motivational culture versus a fear-inducing workplace.
Daniel Goleman: Many executives and managers are fixated on the idea that feedback only means negative feedback. You have to give people bad news. Tell them how they screwed up. Of course mistakes need to be corrected, but you want to help people get the information they need to improve. Don’t only focus on the negative. Help them understand that the information isn’t a judgment. Here’s your baseline. Let’s see how you can grow. Let’s see how I can help you grow. That’s real leadership.
Bill George: That emotionally neutral feedback should happen very close to the event.
DG: The closer the better.
BG: You just came to tell me your project’s delayed six months. Okay, let’s go over why that was the case, and what can we learn about that situation right now. I’m not going to wait until your performance review in January.
BG: I want to talk about it right now. I have a sense that you weren’t on your game in this project. What did you learn about yourself that can help you perform better next time?
DG: And that allows the person you’re talking with to respond logically rather than emotionally.
BG: Right, because you think you’re going to get fired. You’re assuming the worst, which never brings good results.
DG: Exactly. It activates a motivational system instead of a fear system. And that motivational system opens people up to possibility. It opens them up to learning, to improving, to giving their best instead of getting contracted and defensive, which is the worst case scenario in any workplace.
BG: As soon as you start attacking me I’m going to get defensive. I’m putting on my armor. I had bosses like that, and I just shut down. Or I would come back at them just as harsh. I would get hooked by them.
DG: That’s the kind of boss people hate to work for. If you’re a leader, you want to be the boss people want to work for, which means someone who cares about me, understands me, who’s going to help me do better instead of just look at how I’ve blown it.
BG: So my work in leadership in the last 10 years has been trying to encourage people to get rid of those people. You see them when they’re coming up. Get rid of bullies and ego maniacs. That’s not always easy because they look good to the bosses. When I was a boss I would say, “Oh, we ought to promote Charles over here. He gets all his work done. He’s really terrific.” HR’s response was often, “Yes, but he has a 40 percent turnover in his department because no one can stand to work for him.”
DG: That’s a classic mistake in promotion. Look at someone who is an outstanding individual performer and not ask the question: how would this person serve as a leader of a team or a group? Because that’s a different skill set. And many people fail as leaders who are outstanding individual performers. They don’t have the kind of authenticity you’re talking about. They don’t have the self-awareness, empathy, or the ability to motivate people.
BG: Right. Sometimes in short term they get by, but they always fail in the long run.
Adopt these leadership best practices into your development curriculum with Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide.