February 24, 2018

The value of validation

TeamOf course, it’s good to make up our own mind about whether something we’re doing is right or not. Nevertheless, a bit of external validation is still very welcome.

We can seek it out ourselves, for our own needs.

But what about other people—those we have reason to assist in their learning?

If we’re supporting someone develop new leadership behaviours, for example, and they seem to be making some progress in that some of their people are stepping up and taking on appropriate leadership responsibilities as well, it can be extraordinarily reinforcing to prompt other people seeing these positive developments to say so.

In a workshop setting, one answer is simply to invite other participants to comment. Out in the field, a little more deliberate action is needed—perhaps asking them to take the trouble to have a word.

From our perspective then, as the orchestrator of all this, perhaps as a facilitator, or maybe just a friend…

Worth thinking about how to prompt people who could say something helpful.

Don’t leave it to chance.

The vital importance of feedback

Heating controllerMost of us struggle with it, at least at times—taking feedback that may be painful to receive. We might be rather better at giving it than receiving it.

The thing is though…

It’s such an important determinant of success and growth, hearing what we need to hear to adjust our actions and integrating that feedback into what we do.

We wouldn’t expect a control system to work effectively with inconsistent measurements.

So not much point in expecting ourselves to be the best we can be if we shut out feedback.

As Steven Pressfield says, “Don’t let it land in your ego.” That’s the key. (See his short and easily-read book “Turning Pro”.) Instead, stand back from yourself a bit and help others do the same.

A better life lies on the far side of feedback received and integrated. That’s worth remembering.


My new book “The Mastery of Leadership” is now available on Amazon. “Incredibly relevant and thought-provoking” in the words of one reviewer.

They don’t know they’re doing it, and nor do we

Group talkingI imagine you’ve had this experience…

Someone keeps repeating a behaviour that causes problems for everyone else. “Why do they keep doing that?” we ask ourselves. “Why do they not see that there are going to be consequences? Why don’t they change?”

The answer of course is they don’t know they’re doing the thing, not consciously anyway. They’re not aware it’s a problem.

If they keep repeating something that actually isn’t working very well, chances are they haven’t realised. So they’re actually doing their best. And they might have been like that for a long, long time.

We might need to help them see the issue somehow. And that might be hard going.

But more than that…

What about us?

What are the things we do that cause problems we’re unaware of?

There are bound to be some.

How do we welcome—invite even—the feedback which would help us see?

Are you a model of not knowing?

Group working on a projectOr do you always give an answer even if you’re not sure?

One of the greatest gifts a leader can give their team (and themselves) is to show that it’s OK to say you don’t know, or at least it’s much better to say you don’t know than to pretend you do.

Here’s the benefit…

When we accept we don’t know, we open ourselves up to new data and the learning we need, and we ensure our decisions aren’t corrupted by false information. Model that and we’ll create a culture of transparency. Pretend we know and everybody’s feedback loops get confused, including our own.

It sounds so obvious, and yet our egos tend to get in the way.

For some, the “Italian Flag” method (from Patrick Godfrey and others) can help. Traditionally, a judgement call in a review, for example, might be seen as having two outcomes: OK or not OK, go or no go, green or red. Add-in white as a possibility and we have: OK, not OK, and don’t know, and of course, the colors of the Italian flag —green, white and red. And we have the chance of uncovering uncertainty.

That’s a technical approach.

At the human level, it’s simpler… The words “I don’t know” will do.

How do you model not knowing?

I’ve decided to make available the notes (6 pages) from a talk on leadership I gave recently. These include specific insights into how to get organisations to learn and change and increase their performance. You can get a copy here…


The trouble with “going off-site”

Hotel meeting roomWhen it comes to a strategy or learning day, we’re used to the practice of “going off-site” to a venue away from the usual workplace. Our intention is to get away from the distractions of the office so that quality, uninterrupted time is spent on the subjects at hand—all very sensible, and the quality of the day we have usually seems to justify the decision.


There is an issue to be aware of, and that is all learning is state-dependent.

What does that mean?

It means that we only really assimilate learning when we are in the “state” to which it applies, or if you will, in the situation to which it relates. That’s why feedback needs to be delivered within a few minutes of an occurrence if it is to have any effect.

So the trouble with off-site learning is that it arrives when we are in a specially controlled, in fact artificial state away from the normal workplace. And so we and everyone else have trouble applying the learning when we go back. The off-site approach isn’t as effective as we think.

For a successful outcome, we need to promote learning in the live environment or specifically pull through anything that happens off-site.

That’s my experience.

What about you? How do you transfer learning from an off-site day?

Feedback is not a negotiation

St Pauls with protestors camped outsideThe protestors have achieved a great deal of publicity. Some of them, without intending to, have caused a religious institution (St Paul’s Cathedral in London) to lose its balance (about whose side it’s on), with senior figures resigning.

The protestors are unclear about what exactly they want. Some lobbyists for the other side (the financially greedy, as the protestors see it) ask us to dismiss the protests because “they have no clear demands; no alternative to offer.”

The lobbyists see the situation as a negotiation: “Tell us what you want and we’ll give up some of what we have” (but largely carry on as before).

When someone says they don’t like what we’re doing, it is tempting to say “what do you want me to do instead?” and make a negotiation out of it.

But really we’re getting feedback, and it’s up to us to change our behavior when someone says they don’t like it. That’s the only way to grow as a person.

If we want to be accepted (by ourselves as much as anyone else), WE need to work out what to do with the feedback.

We imagine the targets of the Occupy protestors’ ire care nothing about being accepted. Do you think that’s true?

At St Paul’s, it seems to be taking someone of the Bishop of London’s wisdom to bring stability to the situation. (Dr Richard Chartres impressed many with his address at William and Kate’s wedding.)

So what’s different about the Bishop?

Well, I suggest he has a particular balance that comes from dealing with opposing ideas and reconciling them, and, I suspect, accepting feedback.

How do we know this?

Because Dr Richard has a certain charisma, a presence; and these two things go together: reconciling opposing forces within ourselves increases our appeal to other people. Do this as a lifelong effort and you have a person with the personal authority of the Bishop of London.

And that’s why feedback is best just accepted, and not negotiated away.

And why reconnecting the financial and the ethical will work out well for those that most need to.

What can we learn from a stalled career?

Carol still applies for senior jobs that come up, but she’s lost count of the interviews she’s been to over the years only to be disappointed. She doesn’t tell her family anymore when she’s in the running for a new position. They can tell though.

Carol’s well-qualified, with plenty of relevant experience and good results to show for it. Her face just doesn’t seem to fit. That’s what she tells herself anyway, not noticing her victim mindset. The self-talk keeps her self-esteem up.

If nothing changes, she’ll see out the rest of her career at  her current level.

But wait, maybe the explanation is all wrong…

Maybe it’s because her attention is mostly on herself; maybe she doesn’t hear other people out; maybe she doesn’t focus on what’s important for them. I may be wrong, but that is my personal experience of her. Perhaps the interviewers somehow sense that Carol could be difficult to work with – focused on her own issues and oblivious to theirs.

It’s likely others experience Carol as not really attending to other people, but do any of them ever tell her? I doubt it. So they help sustain her misconception about her lack of advancement.

I’m complicit too…

I haven’t told her my hunch about what may be holding her back. I feel I don’t know her well enough.

And so Carol carries on with her behavior, oblivious to what’s holding her back, and what other people can see.

So what’s my takeaway?

Well, there’s the obvious one: “Attending to others” (listening and more) is a vital behavior. That’s a reminder for me too, having failed to do this with a friend recently.

But there’s a bigger learning…

We can’t depend on other people telling us what we’re doing wrong, even if they can see it.

So we need to develop our own self-awareness and sensitivity to feedback. We need an attitude of personal mastery – an openness to learning about how we interact with other people.

How do you tackle this? How do you track your own effectiveness