Why Honest Feedback Is Key For Effective Executive Leadership Development!

by | Apr 22, 2014

Without honest feedback you simply cannot improve. Whether it is in Sports, Academics, Relationships or Business, honest feedback is key to executive leadership development.

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”  — Tom Landry, one of the most effective and innovative coaches in NFL history

Tom Landry’s words are equally true when one coaches executives and aspiring leaders and when one coaches linebackers and quarterbacks. The best thing that I can do for my clients is to be completely truthful and straightforward; if I fail at that, I fail to meet my responsibility to them and perhaps, as a result, they fail to become who they know they could be.

That’s not an acceptable outcome for me, and it can be avoided by thoughtful communication from someone who issues frank, tough comments, intended to educate and encourage, or admonish; in other words, a Dutch uncle.

Telling Someone What They Don’t Want to Hear

Recently, I recommended to one of my clients that he gain a better understanding of personality and preferences. I used a personal assessment tool called DiSC, which quickly and accurately identified predominant styles and recommended actions appropriate to him to move forward in his career.

One challenge was that some of the work I recommended was uncomfortable for him. Certain exercises were, perhaps, awkward or outside of his normal scope of behavior. For example, I asked that he make a presentation in front of a mirror, and he took three weeks to do it. While it seemed like a simple task, he had a great deal of resistance exploring outside of his comfort zone.

My client would often change the subject and shift the conversation away from that which was uncomfortable to hear or undertake. Perhaps the agenda for particular meetings would be sidestepped because he felt embarrassed or unsure. My greatest concern was that we were not making progress; we weren’t meeting the real goals that this client had identified as critical to a career move.

I needed to take a radical step and refocus our efforts, so I wrote my “Dutch uncle” letter.

What Was My “Dutch Uncle” Message?

I was lucky to have a sage in my early career. He used the phrase “Dutch uncle” to describe a person who delivered a tough conversation, used frank language, dropped all pretenses, and simply delivered the message.

My message to my coachee was:

“I am committed to your success. My role as coach is to help you become the person who can and will lead a business organization. The wisdom contained in your DiSC report, while perhaps uncomfortable to review, has potentially long-range implications. It is available for us to dissect and use creatively on strategies to build your future.

“My suspicion is that you may experience unease while taking a close look at your natural tendencies and potential traps. This is understandable and not an uncommon reaction. When we are able to lift ourselves above the emotional impact, it becomes easier to look at these characteristics from a fresh perspective. Some people might refer to this as classic avoidance of inner reflection because of the risk of being vulnerable. What do you think?”

I saw this direct and carefully considered communication as an assessment of what needed to change. Since sending the letter, our relationship has developed nicely. The respect level is higher, and my client is now making progress that we had hoped to see.

We All Benefit From Straight Talk

The value of working with a coach is that he or she is not there to tell others what they want to hear but what they need to hear in order to improve, develop, and grow as a leader. A coach should be a sounding board, someone who can provide feedback that might not otherwise be available, and someone to communicate this feedback in a way that resonates and motivates a coachee to act. Your executive leadership development depends on this!

Unless the coach can facilitate changes that go beyond the clients’ normal mode of operation, progress will not be forthcoming. My goal as a coach is to move away from the old and target new strategies that allow my coachees to move forward. Sometimes a frank, direct conversation can be just the ticket: a catalyst for change that coachees need.

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