Unconstructive Feedback – A Leader’s Guide

When Lisa Petrilli and I launched Leadership Chat last year, one of our hopes was that we would, at times, provide a point-counterpoint perspective.

Turns out that we actually agree on an awful lot, though we do tend to approach things from different angles.

But this week, we’re on opposite sides of the fence. Lisa writes about Giving Constructive Feedback in this 8-point post. And that’s all well and good – but what about those leaders who really want to excel in Unconstructive Feedback? Who’s giving them guidance?

I am. So, in the interests of conforming to the recently-enacted No Stupid Left Behind Act, here are my eight counterpoints:

1. Delay is critical. Disassociating feedback from action will help create the desirable sense of confusion that keeps employees on their toes. It is best to wait a day, a week – even a year – before telling George, “Hey, that time you talked about our company history in the presentation to that client? – it was too long-winded.”

2. Keep it vague. What you want is maximum guilt feelings spread over the widest possible range of behaviors. Instead of focusing on a specific typo in an email message, and the potential confusion that it may have caused to a small group of people, simply say, “Your writing leaves a lot to be desired.” That sort of generality will encourage better performance in all circumstances!

3. Focus on the abstract. Instead of looking at how a particular behavior impacted a particular circumstance – the why and how – move to higher levels, such as, “You’re a superb demotivator. Why don’t you stop it?” That way, any number of behaviors and attitudes can be ranged under one overarching criticism.

4. Exaggerate everything, being sure to put each criticism in the worst possible light. Remember – people don’t understand context. So just bring the maximum firepower for maximum effect. The question you always need to ask yourself: “Can we go all scorched-earth on this transgression?” Make it memorable!

5. Make it hard-nosed. Underlings have to be kept in line. You’re not there to make friends. You were made a leader to enforce policy. Period. Remember – you can’t fix stupid, but you sure can enjoy yelling at it!

6. Keep ‘em guessing. While criticizing undesirable behaviors, be sure to leave the alternative along the lines of, “I’m really expecting you to do better.” That way, they never quite know if they’re getting it right, which could lead to complacency.

7. Monitor behind closed doors. Tell them they’d better get it right, and that you’ll be watching. They were hired to do a job and they need to know that you’re not there to babysit. If they want a coach, they can go back to high school and join the football team.

8. Let them know that they are right on the bubble. The best workers are those who fear for their jobs continually. Use the word “expendable” liberally when upbraiding them for their marginal performance. This will extract the maximum effort from their dissolute souls.

Lisa, I know you meant well. But, really – I have far more “leaders” on my side. My principles are embedded in so many organizations, and they are passed down from generation to generation by countless corporate scribes and practitioners. In fact, I’ve been meaning to tell you – all of your blog posts really leave a lot to be desired – I’m expecting better! :>}

(yes, dear readers, all of the above is sarcastic spoofery. If only it weren’t so common in practice, however!)

So, what do you think – Steve’s view of feedback, or Lisa’s? Join the discussion on Twitter tonight during #LeadershipChat (8 pm ET) and let’s talk about how to give constructive – or not – input.

(Image credit – Wilted Rose)

PLUS – big news! Special guest host joining us for next week’s LeadershipChat (July 5th) – author and all-around smart fellow Guy Kawasaki (we’ll talk about leadership principles from his book Enchantment). Don’t miss this one!

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

5 Responses to Unconstructive Feedback – A Leader’s Guide

  1. Pingback: June Topics « Leadership Chat

  2. Pam Ross says:

    A fun look at what not to do! I worry that, unfortunately, some of these behaviours are more prevalent than their opposites…

  3. Fabulous and exactly what so many “top” bosses really do. Glad you are grounded in the real world Steve!

    The scary thing is that many will think this is about right for feedback!

  4. Jim says:

    Unfortunately, I think there are more managers that follow Steve’s Guidelines instead of Lisa’s. #leadershipchat tonight will be great.

  5. Adam says:

    Steve when i started to read your intro I was getting a little worried. I respect Lisa’s opinion and yours as well and having read her superb post already I was a little nervous about what you were going to say.

    I really can appreciate your humour, well put.

    And you summed up what I was going to say, that unfortunately too many “leaders” are in your camp. Hopefully with thought-leaders like yourself and Lisa this can be changed.

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