Leadership Kryptonite

Everywhere one turns leadership advice abounds. These resources can be very helpful; however all of the tools, techniques and strategies are ineffective if leaders ignore one thing that I have come to think of as Leadership Kryptonite – feedback and accountability.

RightPath has the privilege of meeting individually with a wide variety of leaders in multiple industries. We are consistently reminded that feedback and accountability are the missing links to leadership effectiveness. All leaders know that they should provide feedback and hold others accountable. Too often, however, they do it poorly. Here are the three most common feedback and accountability mistakes we observe:

  1. Too Late – A leader recognizes a small issue and wonders if he should address it and chooses to overlook the issue. By the time the issue is addressed, the behavior has gone on for weeks or even months.
  2. Too Harsh – Some leaders are bold and decisive and quickly give feedback, but their approach comes across as critical and harsh. Often, speed and frustration add to the negative tone of the feedback.
  3. Too Vague – Unlike the leaders who give harsh feedback, some leaders overemphasize encouragement and hint or suggest rather than  provide helpful information.

How can you improve feedback and accountability? Start with awareness – both of yourself and the person you are giving feedback to. Your natural, hard-wired behavior has a significant impact on how you approach feedback. If you are accommodating and compassionate, you will tend to drop hints or make subtle suggestions, resulting in feedback that is too vague. Dominant and detached leaders will often give feedback that comes across as harsh or unkind. Gain awareness of yourself and adjust your style so feedback is both clear and helpful.

In addition, seek to understand how your direct reports like to receive feedback, then adjust your approach for maximum effectiveness. To increase the effectiveness of your feedback, we suggest that you give feedback that is:

  1. Frequent – Think of feedback in terms of snacking (frequent and small) rather than gorging (rare and excessive).
  2. Clear – Go into a feedback conversation with a clear, one-sentence description of the problem and a clear, one-sentence description of the solution.
  3. Helpful – Rather than only focusing on the problem, coach for a solution. Asking coaching questions like, “How might you do it better next time?” is a helpful, coaching approach.