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Giving and Getting Feedback - What to Ask the Person in the Mirror

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Jul 1, 2024

After my first promotion to sales manager, my General Manager (previously my sales manager), adamantly told me one of my jobs as sales manager was to make sure I trained my replacement.

Is this the attitude at your workplace?

When you promote people, are they made aware it’s their duty to train, coach, and develop the next person to occupy their chair after they leave or get promoted?

A key to developing yourself and your people’s leadership is coaching and evaluating.

“The Illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Future Shock, Futurist Alvin Toffler“The Illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Futurist Alvin Toffler


Effective Leaders Coach Their People and Actively Seek Coaching Themselves. Since this blog is based on What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential, by Harvard Professor Robert Steven Kaplan let’s begin with some questions:

  • Do you coach and actively develop your key people?
  • Is your feedback specific, timely, and actionable?
  • Do you solicit actionable feedback from your key subordinates?
  • Do you cultivate advisers who are able to confront you with criticisms that you may not want to hear?

Giving and Getting Feedback - What to Ask the Person in the MirrorOne of the reasons I joined the company I did for my 2nd career opportunity was to learn. My previous position failed to train or coach me. I desperately wanted to learn and earn more. My new sales manager was a great coach and superior trainer. We frequently met daily for one-on-ones to review my progress. I learned, improved, and understood the value of development coaching. I carried that forward to every job and business I owned or worked for.

Most executives assert that talent development is critical to the success of their organization. Few know how to do it, and still, fewer fail to make it a priority. As a leader, a substantial amount of your time should be dedicated to coaching your direct subordinates.

Why do even the best of companies fail to get high marks in frequency and quality of coaching in most employee surveys?

Impediments to Giving Feedbackuser-feedback-stamp

Many leaders fail to distinguish between coaching and year-end evaluation. Often some version of a 360-degree feedback review process, where an individual gets feedback from multiple directions: subordinates, peers, supervisors, even customers, and vendors are being used. This tool is primarily a year-end review purpose and individual appraisal. While 360-degree reviews have their place in developmental systems, leaders fail to realize the year-end review is not the appropriate time to coach the recipient.

Year-end reviews happen too late in the year for anyone to take action to influence their compensation, review rating, and/or promotion prospects. Kaplan shares, “It’s as if the jury has come in with its decision, at which point it is far too late for constructive criticism or do-overs.”

If the employee hears feedback that comes as a surprise, he or she is likely to feel upset, angry, and even betrayed by the reviewer. Subordinates who get blindsided in a year-end review take that turn of events very, very seriously.

Don’t be surprised if the next surprise is on you when they decide to leave!

No Surprises - A good rule is “no surprises” in year-end performance reviews. If the first time you’ve presented constructive criticism to a subordinate is in their year-end review, YOU screwed up.

It Takes Time to Prepare - Another reason managers fail to engage in successful coaching is that done right, coaching takes a lot of preparation. Coaching is central to your job as a leader. It requires time to prepare, analyze, and present well-intentioned developmental feedback. If your business fails to hold on to your key talent, it may very well be due to the shortcomings of your leaders as coaches. Your subordinates want to get your feedback. They want to know what you think, based on your observations and conversations with their colleagues. After all, you set their compensation, you decide whether they will be promoted. They need and deserve your feedback.

Fear of Confrontation - Coaching requires a willingness to confront. Are you afraid giving constructive feedback will cause a subordinate to dislike you? Kaplan asks, “Would you rather be loved right up to the moment that the employee gets the bad news, and then despised—or consistently respected? Are you somehow afraid that giving feedback will demoralize the subordinate? What is holding you back?” If your coaching is done constructively, a subordinate is unlikely to leave you because they were coached too much. The consequence of not giving honest feedback throughout the year will cause a subordinate to stop trusting, and likely leave.

Develop a Learning/ Coaching Environment

Here are four keys for training your leader to be effective coaches:

  • Preparation and Incentives - Coaching takes time. Managers need to know you believe it is important they take the time during the year to be up to speed on the strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports.
  • Specific, Actionable Feedback and Proposed Remedies - Effective feedback should be very specific and focused on skills. It should be actionable. Telling someone they acted “stupidly” is not helpful feedback when trying to dissect what they should have done, and what they might need to do differently in the future. Make it specific, clear, and actionable!
  • Updating and Follow-up - Coaching demands updating and follow-up. Your organization needs change. Employees’ dreams also change. Subordinates want to be coached on how to succeed in their current job but also want to develop skills to help them step up to their next assignment. To coach effectively, have a view of what the next assignment might be so you can help your subordinate develop.
  • Creating a Culture of Ownership - Everyone’s job should be to give and seek out feedback. Who bears the responsibility in your organization for feedback? It should be 100 percent the subordinates’ job to seek out feedback—to know their key strengths and weaknesses and determine action steps to address those weaknesses. Managers share 100 percent as their job to give feedback to subordinates. Your junior people “own” the challenge of seeking feedback! Senior people own the challenge of giving it. when both sides have this attitude you create a true learning environment in which effective coaching occurs.

A Culture of Learning

Strategic_Learning_Cycle-resized-600Certain companies in an industry succeed and while others fail—or perform at a lower level of success. They may have the same strategies, hire the same caliber of people, and exhibit other similarities. The one key difference is what they do with their talented people once they join the firm.

Successful enterprises have a culture of learning.

These leaders set expectations, provide training, and challenge each professional to take ownership of getting coaching—and challenge them to take ownership of giving coaching.

Your organization can be better than your peers by producing leaders, minimizing unwanted turnover, and getting the most from your scarce people resources. Make time for it!  

Here are some of Kaplan’s Suggested Follow-up Steps.

Suggested Follow-up Steps Giving & Getting Feedback - What to Ask the Person in the Mirror

To create an environment where everyone is inspired to give their best, contact Positioning Systems to schedule a free exploratory meeting.

Let’s help you to turn your business into a growth organization!  

Growth demands Strategic Discipline.

Leadership development is essential for maintaining a growing organization. Getting and giving good feedback is part of the process in delegating and building a succession plan for your business. Next blog we explore Succession Planning and Delegation, what questions you need to ask from What to Ask the Person in the Mirror.

Building an enduring great organization requires disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action, superior results, producing a distinctive impact on the world.

Discipline sustains momentum, over a long period of time, laying the foundations for lasting endurance.

A winning habit starts with 3 Strategic DisciplinesPriorityMetrics, and Meeting Rhythms.   Forecasting, accountability, individual, and team performance improve dramatically.

Meeting Rhythms achieve a disciplined focus on performance metrics to drive growth.

Let Positioning Systems help your business achieve these outcomes on the Four most Important Decisions your business faces:












Positioning Systems helps mid-sized ($5M - $500M+) businesses Scale-UP. We align your business to focus on Your One Thing! Contact to Scale Up your business! Take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

NEXT BLOG – Succession Planning and Delegation - What to Ask the Person in the Mirror

Topics: Employee Feedback, leadership, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror, Robert Steven Kaplan, Giving and Getting Feedback

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

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