All entries for February 2016

February 19, 2016

Let me be clear, I want only positive feedback

Let me be clear

How many times do you hear managers and leaders voicing out positive feedbacks and reviews. Any good comments from satisfied customers are always welcomed and appreciated, any good results always published and even plastered on the walls as an indication of outstanding performance. But what about the harsher criticisms? The so-called negative comments?

A classic situation was acted out to demonstrate the power of feedback, which I feel is a very useful method and tool which can be applied to any group of people within an organisation, particularly to managers and senior level employees. This situation was in the form of a meeting, where one team played the role of the participants of the meetings, all with a respective set of observers who annotated and took down notes, in silence, of the performance of the individuals and the meeting in general. At first glance, the role of the observer seemed so simple. How hard could it be to write down everything someone said on a sheet of paper? And then just read it back to them as feedback? Little did I realise how powerful it can be for one to observe in silence.

Being silent doesn’t come quite naturally to me, always wanting to voice out my opinion or give input to everything possible. But this time, I had to! Taking down notes on everything that was said wasn’t too hard a task, the challenge actually came with the next, and quite rightly, the most important step of the session - relaying this information in terms of performance feedback to the person I was observing. This proved to be one of the most useful moments for my career - the art and power of feedback, absolutely essential for leaders of the future.

The first step is to build the trust and engage with the person I am giving feedback to, all done within a matter of seconds. This is to put the reviewee at ease and in a comfortable environment in order for them to receive the feedback on themselves; people don’t usually like being told about themselves as they often think opposite to what you are about to tell them. One simple mechanism of doing this is to seat them down at a 45 degree angle to yourself, allowing them room for face contact and also for escape. As one great mind continuously reminds me, communication is only as good as the response received. This is where attention to body language and other like expressions is needed. This is a key characteristic that leaders need to be aware of, as most communication is non-verbal. It is hard for emotions such as anger and frustration to be hidden when at face value. These must be taken into consideration as it identifies whether the reviewee is engaged and still willing to receive the feedback.

An environment of positivity is highly appreciated, as I found was the case with my dissertation supervisor. He suggested that whenever we met for a meeting, before any of the actual details were discussed, that we should always state something that was both true and positive in our lives. This had the impact of making me feel safe to voice any concerns or any problems and made me at ease to converse with him. This positivity was further strengthened by not pointing out any negatives, only room for further improvement. This does not demotivate and put down the reviewee, and an effective communicator must constantly look for ways in which these suggestions can be made. In my view, keeping this more general to a system as a whole may reduce the potential impact it may have on the reviewee in case it started coming across as an attack to himself/herself. It must also be kept evidence based as opposed to the common tendency to add emotions to conversation. Feedback itself is not about summarising the events that occurred, it is about critically analysing what happened and feeding the information back in a way that some learning will come out of it.


The greatest learning opportunity for myself in this session was how to receive feedback. This for me is probably one of the hardest things, as most of the time I find myself, as I’m sure others do, in a pre-meditated defensive state - where anything anyone says is already contrary to what I want to hear. Feedback is not about telling people what they want to hear, it is about helping others improve, and also pointing out their strengths. This made me become very aware of myself, my characteristics, and how I should appreciate comments from others on my performance. It is about keeping ego aside and taking on board what is being said, without becoming emotional and starting to bear a grudge. Patience is virtue, and so is silence. I learnt the most this entire week having listened more than I usually do; leaders must be able to listen with an open mind and detach themselves emotionally from the situation at hand.

February 17, 2016

Vote for me… Vote for me…

Earlier on today, I was reminded of a scenario that I heard back when I was in high school.

“There were 3 ministers stranded on a leaking boat in the middle of the ocean. There was only one lifejacket on board. In order to decide who should take the lifejacket, they decided to have a vote.” This vote was to be casted by a select group of 5 individuals from a classroom, each being allocated only one vote. The question then was, “who won, and by how many votes?”

The joke behind this was related to the election ‘scandal’ situation in Kenya at the time, where the elected president had allegedly rigged the polls in his favour. The answer to the question was the elected president, who won by 9 votes :D

Vote Joke

To put this into context, we were phased with a very similar situation: where the leader we chose to vote for and our deputy too were to come from no prior knowledge, just a small brief on their personalities and characteristics. There was no campaigning involved, just a sole personality check. What was interesting to see was the variety of choices that resulted from our rather random sample of colleagues. What implication did this have? It meant that we all have our own views as who leaders would be form our points of view. These leaders were not campaigning for votes, or trying to provide incentives which would make us vote for them. We were solely relying on their cover letters, analysing their leadership characteristics, and choosing who we want to lead us.

There are two separate learning points that rose from this. One is where, as a result of the voting system on who should be the leader and deputy, they are being assigned a role in which they are given the positional power to lead. On the other hand, we could argue that they were voted into this role as a result of their own interpersonal power to influence people to choose them to be their leader. I believe the most effective leader is hence one that can manage to influence my decisions without necessarily even being there in person, face-to-face with me. His beliefs and motives are shared and aligned to those that I believe in too. This would remove the situation, as in the joke above, where you end up in a negative situation having voted for someone, hence giving power to someone who you do not believe in.

This renewed the thoughts that were shared to me with my colleagues earlier on: that a leader has the ability to influence the thoughts of his/her followers towards the achievement of shared goals. Whereas I would’ve liked to disagree somehow with this earlier on, having felt that there were to be several more additions to this simple definition, I could relate to how this simplistic view defined what I determine a leader should be able to do.

What makes a boss/manager into a leader?

Whilst reading a few case studies and examining transformations within my own family organisations, there were some key elements that now make sense to me.

I watched managers change their views from awarding themselves to awarding (rewarding) all within the teams they managed. They stopped using their positional power and being superior to making the team feel as if the manager was really one of their colleagues. As a result, the team members stopped feeling used, became more engaged and motivated to deliver success; the manager also suggested individual development programmes. Working together as a unit, respect was earned from the team, removing the fear that comes from being inferior. They improved on collaboration, and delegating tasks to individuals resulted in the team feeling empowered and entrusted, giving them a greater sense of purpose.

I believe that this focus on the people, rather than the work itself, has greater potential to deliver success. A boss in positional power would generally be contradicting to this: what makes him/her a leader is their vision for a long term future.

Born to be a leader? Or given the power to lead?

We see many stereotypes that are commonly used to represent leaders. Were they ‘born' to be leaders? Or did they position themselves in a way such that they sat themselves at the top of a hierarchal structure? For me, the most efficient leaders chose to be leaders; leadership is a choice. Leadership occurs when someone decides it is important that they lead: the challenge, then, is making the choice to lead.

So what exactly defines a leader? From first glance, and as advised by my colleagues, I found out that there are infinite definitions and descriptions out there in the literature to suggest what leadership is, and what the characteristics for leaders are. Having used an analysis matrix to understand a few definitions and cipher out key factors, I managed to come out with key characteristics that represent the sort of leader I would follow. These essentially form the virtues that define an effective leader and the key values that I would aim to build into my persona.

For me, the bottom line is that great leaders are the ones who win the support of their followers by earning their trust and respect, not those who exercise leadership from positional power given to them. They achieve success by leading with a vision, remaining true to their beliefs, listening to their conscience and leading by example. They have a ‘never-give-up’ attitude which is reflected in their determination to fight for what they believe in, no matter how tough it gets. They encourage teamwork and collaboration, promote an environment on positivity for their followers with their own strong positive interpersonal influence, bringing out the best in each individual. Listening and observation is vital for a leader to be effective and understand the situation or context to which their skills need to be applied.

To sum up, leaders lead with a vision to ensure everyone following them is motivated towards achieving the same shared goal. They should make every effort to gather information from as many sources as possible and weigh out all possible alternatives to a situation in order to determine the best course of action. Leaders should be passionate to achieve their goals with the highest integrity, whilst maintaining a risk-calculated balance between short-term performance and a longer term sustainable future. I believe that this balance however has to be initiated by higher priority given to short-term performance, especially in the case of new teams, as this will assist the leader in building trust and instilling confidence within his whole team, as well as himself. Earning this trust and respect is priceless, we can’t place a price tag on it, it can’t be acquired from a shop or be demanded. A leader doesn’t cut corners, even when the going gets tough..

And they do this everyday.. They made the choice to do this everyday...

February 2016

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