Most management experts agree that the single most important quality you need to be a successful boss is the ability to give and receive guidance.
This used to be called feedback but, not only is that an awful cliché, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Guidance comprises equal measures of praise and criticism mixed with an occasional nudge or two.
We all understand praise. It’s what our parents heaped on us whenever we mastered a new skill. We enjoyed it at school when we did well in our projects and exams and then, at university, when we turned in a decent paper. Remember that feeling?
But criticism, surely that’s a bit risky? Something to be handled with tongs and rubber gloves? In the past, perhaps. Modern management thinking is that criticism should be delivered bluntly. In a working environment where trust has been established, honest criticism will be regarded as a constructive contribution to the employee’s success and the boss’s.
Public criticism is to be avoided
Of course, the aim is to guide, not humiliate.
Praise, on the other hand, is to be delivered loud and proud so that everyone knows who’s doing a good job. Some companies, like Tupperware, take this to extremes. Their monthly sales meetings, usually held in a large venue like a conference centre, are like victory rallies or religious gatherings.
Sales people are called one by one to the stage and their achievements announced to the audience. Even if someone is showing few signs of improvement, the management will use praise as a motivation:
“Please welcome Shelley. Her sales have been holding steady over the month and she’s hosted five more parties than usual, let’s give her a big hand.”
Be aware of cultural traps. In some societies, especially in Asia, criticism is often handed down in small, bite-size chunks over a period of two or three days. This allows the receiver to process the information and to formulate their own plan for improvement.
A good leader knows their team and all its sensitivities and will manage criticism, always a sensitive area, in the appropriate way for each person.
Yes, one of your responsibilities is to encourage your team to rate your performance. There are a few ways you can do this. For major complaints, schedule a small private meeting with the offended party. If you’re in the wrong, admit it, apologize and, if necessary, make a public apology.
For minor gripes, have a white board and markers in a public area and encourage people to draw a simple thumbs down with their name underneath. If they feel you’ve done something really well, let them draw a thumbs up. Once a week, gather informally and listen to what they have to say.
You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from the guidance of those you’re guiding.
There’s a potential drawback to all this honesty, of course. When people are given the freedom to comment on the behaviour of others, they sometimes blur the line between helpful criticism and back stabbing.
Neutralize this in a simple way. If a team member comes to you with a complaint about someone, your response should be: “Well okay. Have you two discussed this?” Chances are they haven’t, so insist they try to resolve their conflict before asking you to act as referee.
Only if that fails should you step in and call both colleagues together to try and find a solution.
If you manage a large department with several team leaders, it’s easy to roll out these guidance principles so that everyone’s involved.