Can you imagine if you didn’t have access to a mirror? Those who are not so concerned with their appearance might be thinking, “That might not be so bad!” But consider how you might feel if you were a model of some kind and your livelihood depended on making sure your appearance was just so. If you needed to make sure that your hair, clothing, make-up, etc. were just right, all in order to make a living, you wouldn’t ever want to be without some way of knowing how you looked and what adjustments you needed to make, right? That would be unacceptable. Now imagine having that same lack of awareness of how well you were doing and what adjustments you needed to make when it came to developing mastery in a certain field or learning to lead other people. What if you never received any feedback on your effectiveness, your performance, strengths, or areas of opportunity you needed to address? For a leader, that situation would be no less acceptable, and yet it is a reality for many of us.
If you are uni-lingual and don’t even want to read this post because you’re afraid I am going to talk you into learning a foreign language, please don’t leave! That’s not what I’m talking about.
I left my home country of Iran at age 16 to continue my education in the US. I had a very limited English vocabulary when I arrived in Boston and virtually no conversation skills as whatever English I knew, I had learned through reading and writing, not speaking to native speakers. About six months later, just as I was approaching the point of being able to get by, I moved to a very small town in south Georgia. I was on the Greyhound bus for 33 hours because I didn’t want to deal with the complications of flying to Atlanta and finding my way to Cochran, and I remember getting off the bus thinking it had gone all the way to Mexico while I was asleep because I could no longer understand what people were saying! Anyway, I figured out how to manage after a while. Little did I know that I would find myself in the midst of people whose language and culture I wouldn’t understand a few more times, many years later when my family and I moved to Thailand, and then Germany.
As kids, we had to be told to brush our teeth before we went to bed, and at some point, we decided that this was something we would always do. Once that decision was made, it was not a matter of whether we felt like it or not. On the other end of the spectrum, we may have had habits like playing with matches or sticking objects into electrical outlets that, at some point, we decided we would never do. Sound familiar? These simple examples represent a vast number of decisions we have made throughout our lives, whether we recognize the exact moment we made them or not.
Imagine that in all aspects of your life there is a spectrum of things you could do, and that this spectrum is divided into three sections. The far left section contains things you would never do, the far right section contains things you will always do, and in the section in the middle, which we will call the maybe zone, things that you would make a decision to do or not on a case-by-case basis.
One of the distinct memories I have of the early days of my career is how much I hated to get feedback. The mere mention of the word sent chills down my spine and made me tense up. I knew I had to brace myself for a message I probably didn’t want to hear, even though it was likely going to be sandwiched between two pieces of praise and worded with tact and all of those old tricks to make negative feedback more palatable for the poor soul that is about to get blindsided by it.
I admit, my anxiety and my inability to take feedback well was primarily due to my defensiveness and my insecurities. There is no denying that, but I can think of a few things that, if done differently, would have made a huge difference in how I received and processed feedback.
Understanding the value of feedback, and having the ability to give and receive it effectively is probably one of the most critical skills that a leader must possess. No process or strategy can ever succeed without a feedback loop to inform us of the course corrections we need to make to improve the outcome. Most people say they would prefer to receive straight and honest feedback, yet everyday in organizations everywhere, leaders hesitate to provide helpful feedback, or they deliver it in a way that is not productive. I believe this is partly due to lack of skill, but also because of the context we create for feedback.
We have all heard about the power of creating a vision and going for it, simply because as Zig Ziglar put it “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” Several years ago, when the movie “The Secret” came out, my family and I were quite intrigued by the idea of the law of attraction and how it reinforced the notion that just the mere thought of a certain outcome, and dwelling on it as if it has already occurred, increases our chances of attracting it to ourselves.
There are many organizations whose leaders either do not believe in the power of a vision or have no idea how to actually use this methodology to their advantage. Obviously, this represents a huge opportunity that is obvious to those of us who subscribe to the idea and have successfully employed this principle to produce extraordinary results. However, it is just as important to note that even the leaders who believe in the power of a vision or individuals who believe in the law of attraction fail to produce the kind of results they dream about. I am not suggesting that visioning doesn’t work, but I am clear that there are a number of reasons why a great number of visioning efforts fail. Here are the top ten reasons: