Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The F Word in Leadership

I was sat at my desk yesterday putting the finishing touches to a proposal which – the week before – I had agreed with the client was due in ‘next Thursday’, when an email landed in my inbox. It was from said client, asking where my proposal was and whether or not there was a technology issue causing the delay.

As a Type A personality and a proud ‘Completer Finisher’, this type of scenario is beyond mortifying.

I checked back over our email communications and realised that one, small word had meant something completely different to my client and to me.

We had corresponded on a Monday and she had written ‘next Thursday’ for submission of my proposal. I took that to mean Thursday of the following week…rather than three days later. If she had meant that, she would have said ‘this Thursday’.

Well, I was wrong.

So, after a grovelling apology and submission of the proposal pronto, I started to think.

We speak the same language and yet we can mean profoundly different things. I read a great Drucker quote recently that said ‘friction, confusion and underperformance occur naturally in business. The rest requires leadership’. I was confused, I clearly underperformed in the eyes of the client and none of that deepens the trust in a relationship, does it?

It also then led me to reflect on other words and phrases that can confuse, cause friction and result in underperformance.

I landed on the word ‘feedback’.

Who reading this is thinking ‘oh good; can’t wait’ when someone says ‘I’d like to give you some feedback’? I know I’m not. I’m thinking ‘here it comes’ or ‘this is going to be bad’ or ‘uh-oh’. Feedback is a word that tends to cause the heart to sink, the eyes to roll and the defences to go right up.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting we don’t ever give ‘feedback’, but let’s think about why this reaction may be real for a lot of your team, clients, colleagues? Probably because the word is associated with an experience that is negative, depressing, unclear, unfair and/or unbalanced.

Most leaders give ‘feedback’ dreadfully. One curmudgeonly positive and a long list of ‘must do betters’.

So, get rid of the word; be more balanced in your commentary and start finding more ‘bright spots’ (see my last newsletter if you don’t know what that means!)

It’s the ‘F’ word in leadership that we need to stop saying.

Meantime for me, I can assure you that I used an ‘F word’ when I realised my mistake with the client and the proposal.