At the start of my career I was trained to facilitate a leadership development program called “Frontline Leadership” (FLL). A few of my co-facilitators from this era recently reminisced with me about the timelessness of this training program. Three decades later, the basic principles of communication ring true—for example, when giving feedback “focus on the issue, situation, or behavior, not the person” and to “always assume positive intent of others.” These principles help us depersonalize feedback and increase trust in the workplace. Trust is still critical for effective leadership and even harder to build in the virtual world of work.
The FLL program was developed by Dr. Jack Zenger and is reinforced by research findings in his book The Extraordinary Leader. This research has produced two important findings for leaders:
- Leaders who ask for feedback are substantially more effective than leaders who don’t.
- Strong employee engagement is closely aligned with the ability to give honest feedback in a helpful way.
This research is critical because we know people join organizations and leave managers. “One in two employees have left a job to get away from a bad manager,” according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report.
Those who lead others have a responsibility to give constructive feedback. Feedback is a gift and requires shared purpose and mutual respect. If you do not have a constructive purpose, then you should not provide feedback.
The basic communication tenets for leaders have not changed much over the years, but my new favorite thought leader is Brene Brown, the author of Dare to Lead. Any people manager will tell you that leading is not for the faint of heart. Brown taps into our innate vulnerabilities and the realities of relating to one another as humans. She positions her approach as “keeping it awkward, brave, and kind.” Brown also posits clarity is the best way to be kind and sums it up simply as “clear is kind and unclear is unkind.”
What if we all embrace these three words, clear is kind? I keep them at the forefront of daily interactions. We all want to know where we stand. When relationships go off the rails it is often because we don’t have the clarity we need to feel confident and competent. And clarity is an important component of creating a culture where people feel safe. Role ambiguity and inconsistency can often lead to mistrust on teams.
As a leader you can establish psychological safety on the team by:
- Being clear about roles and responsibilities.
- Being clear and consistent about expectations.
- Being clear and honest about how people can contribute to their fullest.
As a leader, the quickest way to motivate and inspire someone is to provide them with the clarity and purpose they need to be successful. And the quickest way to demotivate them is the absence of these two factors.
Work through the awkwardness.
Be brave. Be clear. Be kind.