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In the latest edition of this series, Dr. Wesley Burks shares some ideas on the value of constant feedback and guidance on how to be an effective coach for the teammates you work alongside.

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Dear Colleagues,

Empathy is a key component of effective leadership. That is especially true in the chaotic times that we are living through. That empathy can also make providing honest feedback difficult. It’s human nature to steer away from difficult conversations, and being forced to deliver negative feedback can be especially stressful. Some people struggle with lingering emotions in the hours and even days after a difficult conversation. For me personally, it is the time leading up to the conversation where I have more difficulty.

We feel this way because of the strong connections we share with our teammates. These connections, however, can also serve as a foundation for constructive conversations, coaching, and improvement. When you layer on humility, respect, and caring, these conversations can become opportunities for growth, rather than sources of stress and anxiety.

Performance reviews will take place across our system over the next several weeks. This is a valuable time to reflect on individual accomplishments, identify areas of improvement, set measurable goals, and consider how your work contributes to our organizational priorities. These conversations carry more weight and formality than others, but I would encourage you to promote a culture of constant feedback within your teams. In that open, trusting environment, nothing shared during a performance review should come as a major surprise to either party and you can focus more on setting goals and expectations for the year ahead.

There are numerous benefits to promoting a culture of constant feedback. First, you can encourage teammates to continue practicing a specific behavior as it is fresh in their minds and more easily repeatable. On the flip side, you can correct a potentially negative behavior before it becomes a more destructive habit. Waiting to deliver feedback reduces its effectiveness and applicability.

Looking back, some of my most difficult times at work have been the days leading up to a difficult conversation. Over time, however, I have come to recognize that it is not fair to the people we work with to put off these conversations.

As leaders, we are held accountable for the performance of our teams, but also have varying degrees of comfort and experience in leading others. However, we have all had mentors or coaches throughout our lives, people we can count on, who we know are on our side no matter what.  An overall perspective shift to that of a coach is a good way to approach those you work alongside. It is easy to give advice or simply relay what you would do in a similar situation, but by deploying the skills of a coach, you can help your teammate to be successful long term.

As a lifelong sports fan, the words of legendary Notre Dame football coach, Ara Parseghian, come to mind; “A good coach helps players see what they can be, rather than what they are.”

Helping those we work with to see their full potential requires a constant, deliberate approach to coaching and feedback. The Center for Creative Leadership is known for its “SBI” model, which I have tried to employ over the years. I have found it to be an effective way to organize my thoughts for a constructive conversation. It really helps you look with your teammate at what can be, and not what they aren’t.

First, describe the Situation as specifically as you can. Then, discuss your teammate’s Behavior. Stick to the facts without inserting any judgements or assumption of intent or motivation. Finally, summarize the Impact resulting from the behavior. Allow the teammate to describe their intent, which can help you to better understand their thinking and result in a richer, more productive conversation. Even describe the impact on you personally, that way you are not condemning your teammate but saying the impact you feel. It’s never about “you always do …” Or “you never help …” it must be very specific in nature.

This is where you have to start with empathy, humility, and true active listening. Then, move the conversation forward with questions that can hopefully present a new perspective. Finally, make sure that the teammate you are coaching feels supported enough to try out a new skill. And, make plans to reconnect to discuss the outcome. The goal should always be to arrive at a mutual understanding of the action required and a clear plan for next steps.

It’s also important to acknowledge that each person will receive and process information in a different way. Some will want to get to work right away on new processes or have immediate answers and definitive responses to your questions. Other people may need some time and get back to you once they have had time to process. Both responses are totally appropriate and part of being an empathetic leader is understanding and anticipating these different responses from those you work with.

Now is the perfect moment for these conversations as we continue to set a course for the future. The last few years have forced us to do things in new and different ways. Be honest about what has worked and what has not. Consider the new skills you have gained and discuss how to apply them moving forward.

Treat these next several weeks – and every chance to give and receive feedback – as opportunities for growth. If each of us lives up to our individual potential, as one great team, we can accomplish all of our goals.