It’s nauseating to hear – someone soft-shoe dancing around an issue because they’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. They do so because they might receive negative feedback in a 360 review that they were abrupt or too direct in delivering feedback on that issue. So rather than going the direct route, they water down their message until it’s a mealy mouthed blathering stream of meaningless crap (yes, I’m fired up as I’m writing this).
Let me ask you this – do you want to follow a “leader” who doesn’t speak his or her mind? Someone who is more concerned with how their actions will be perceived rather than saying what they really think? Do you want to follow a leader who is more interested in doing nothing wrong (and hence not doing much of anything) or would you rather follow someone who takes a stand for what they believe in and suffers the consequences as appropriate?
Me? I’ll choose option B.
Conflict avoidance has invaded Leaderville and it’s an ugly blight. IMPORTANT: realize, I’m not advocating or approving of hateful, cruel, rude, or offensive behavior and words (although some idiot won’t bother to read this sentence and they’ll leave an anonymous comment to the effect that I’m a hate-monger or some stupidity of similar ilk). Those words and behaviors have no place in any workplace (or our lives for that matter).
What I’m attacking is a belief that we as leaders can’t speak our minds because we might hurt someone’s feelings. It’s that mindset that erodes the core of leadership over time and turns it into gentle corrective actions that end up having no impact whatsoever. Sure, no one felt corrected or had their feelings hurt but they now effectively have no freakin’ idea what they’re supposed to do or what they did wrong in the first place because the message was diluted.
We need to fix this. Now. So here’s what I propose:
1. Take the But(t) Sandwich off the Menu
I’ve written before about how much I hate but(t) sandwiches. Starting and ending feedback sessions with some false flattery just so you can jam a big slice of nasty feedback in the middle is a waste of time. It’s disingenuous. It also destroys your credibility as a leader. Any time after that if you begin praising someone, they’ll simply be waiting for the “but…” even if it’s never coming. This approach to giving feedback is terrible. Stop it. Now. But(t) sandwiches are now off the menu.
2. Everyone Grow Up
Take your frickin’ binkies out of your mouths and put your blankies away in your Scooby Doo knapsacks. This ain’t kindergarten anymore folks. The feedback isn’t personal. If you screwed up, step up and take it like an adult. I’ve screwed up plenty of times. And yes, when I took my beatings they were VERY unpleasant. But I took them and acted on them.
When you get drilled for doing something wrong then go crying about it to your peers, it makes you look like an idiot. They know you screwed up. They know you’re simply deflecting blame. If we spent as much time and energy focusing on fixing the mistake and building our skills to prevent the next one as we do on complaining to our coworkers about how mean our boss was to us, maybe we would actually perform better. You make a lot of money. A lot is expected of you. Getting some pointed feedback and being mature about receiving it is in your job description. A great leadership principle states “seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.” Do it.
3. Take of the Soft Shoes and Put on the Boots
When you tiptoe around an issue, you come across as weak. More likely than not the recipient of the feedback knows what they did (or didn’t do). They just want you to get it over with. Dancing around the issue is a waste of time. It’s confusing. The recipient might walk away confused or with the wrong impression. None of these are good things.
Whether you’re going to saddle up and be more direct or not, you’ll need to take off the soft shoes and put on the boots. If you’re going to be direct, you’ll need the boots to deliver a swift kick in the behind. If you’re still going to dance around the issue, the boots will at least protect your ankles from the piles of crap that are rising and filling the room.
It’s not always a glamorous job. You’ve chosen to do it. Go be direct. Don’t deliberately hurt feelings but for crying out loud tell people what you really think.
If you’re avoiding conflict so you can fly under the radar and continue to advance your career, you have a comeuppance in your future. At some point your lack of direct communications will be your undoing. If you simply find being direct difficult and inherently unpleasant you might want to reconsider where you want to take your career. The higher you go, the less tolerance there is for bullcrap.
The best leaders I’ve ever met and worked for were direct. They were respectful of the individual, polite, and when needed, up in your grill with some pointed feedback. I know it made me a better performer. You’ve probably had similar experiences. Don’t you owe that same directness to your team? Shouldn’t they know exactly where they stand?
Being “nice” for the sake of avoiding conflict is dysfunctional. It will destroy your organization and your credibility in the long run. I call on each and every one of us to embrace candor and directness in the spirit of making our teams better. I think I’ve been direct enough in this post with what’s on my mind. Now it’s your turn…