COO Leadership Reality

In the critically-acclaimed movie, Lady Bird, Lady Bird’s mother, a nurse, is constantly criticizing her daughter, born more out of the mother’s own anxieties regarding their finances than out of any desire to guide her daughter into adulthood.

As Lady Bird complains about the fit of a dress she is trying on her mother says, “Well, I suggested you not have that second helping of pasta.” Then, “Honey, you seem upset about it, and I’m trying to help,” she adds as her daughter cries out in protest, “You’re giving me an eating disorder!”

Finally, Lady Bird emerges from the dressing room in a pink, slightly sparkly number. “I love it,” she sighs. Her mother’s response: “Is it too pink?”

While humorous on screen, the mother-daughter relationship is a wonderful mirror for the kind of leadership we can offer. One that is affirming and guiding, the other is critical and squelching.

Think about a recent recognition or piece of feedback you received that was valuable. Who gave it to you? How did they say it? What was important about what they said?

As Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Truly we cannot become the people we aspire to be without receiving feedback from others.

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Dialing In

The Leadership Challenge, a leadership system based on 35+ years of research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, argues the importance of feedback by including “Encouraging the Heart” as one of the five key practices of leadership. The essence of “Encourage the Heart” is understanding the value of recognition. It is essential to the development of ourselves and those around us. Without recognition and feedback, we will struggle to become the leaders we want to become.

So how do we dial into feedback, making it beneficial for everyone involved? Kouzes and Posner have developed a feedback sweet-spot for us to target and labeled it: PNR — Positive to Negative Ratio. What is the balance between positive and negative feedback? Their current research shows that people who engage in at least three positive interactions to every one negative will find themselves in a more effective and productive place. 3:1.

Let’s break down our interactions. Think about your PNR. Today, how many times did you stop to have a positive interaction — whether in word or gesture? How many times did you give negative feedback? What would you say your ratio is? What would your colleagues say is your PNR?

I have to admit, I tend towards 2:1 and sometimes even 1:1. I can get so inundated in the daily shuffle that I can simply forget to positively affirm those around me for good work. I’m daily practicing my way to my 3:1 PNR.

“You really guided us through that meeting effectively, even when others tried to derail your agenda.”

“Your input regarding my proposal was invaluable; I needed another set of eyes and you gave me really helpful feedback.”

“I noticed that you cleaned the dishes and put them away. That meant a lot to me since my day was really full!”

For me, it’s a practice of stopping to notice. For you, maybe it’s starting to say the positive feedback when you think them. What is it for you?

Breaking it Down

If your negative ratio is zero, oftentimes it can be that we are afraid of how the feedback will be received. Constructive feedback is essential to improvement. However, there is certainly an art to giving negative feedback — is it useful? Constructive? Specific? Actionable? Given to the right people?

Remember — you may not be able to control the positive to negative ratio that others say to you, but you can take ownership of how you initiate towards others! Start now.

Here are is an easy way to think about giving feedback:

  1. Affirm — what did the person do well?
  2. Acknowledge — Be specific with your feedback, both positive and negative. Recognize the person’s contributions and how valuable they were to you.
  3. Act — Don’t just think about your feedback — say it! Show it! Remember that positive recognition doesn’t require a $50 gift card to Starbucks. It can be a simple affirmation personally or in an organizational meeting.

An interesting caveat, while we are thinking about our positive to negative ratios. For those readers who are in a relationship with a significant other, 3:1 PNR simply won’t cut it. To deepen and solidify your relationship, push for a 5:1 PNR.

For you adoptive parents, the need for positive affirmations goes to a 10:1 PNR. Affirming an adopted child continues to ground and connect them.  My colleague Sarah Braud, in reflecting on this in her own family, says, “it’s all about connection. The work is tough, but in order to build a strong foundation of trust, children need to feel seen and acknowledged. ‘Connect before you correct’ is our family mantra.”

A Path to More Effective Leadership

People gravitate towards good leaders who provide meaningful recognition to those around them. When we don’t know where we stand, or we don’t receive the feedback we need, we live in anxiety. Did I do a good job? What did my boss think of that client interaction? These questions can plague us.

From my own experience, exercising the feedback muscle makes you a stronger, more effective leader. Stop and evaluate what’s going on around you. Affirm, acknowledge and act.

Get those affirmations flowing!

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