Since the beginning of this year, I have experienced new territory as a leader. Change is in the wind. Major change. Our organization, Growing Leaders, endured a plateau in its growth, and some team members moved out of state. It forced our leadership’s team members to examine ourselves in fresh ways. We hired some incredible new people (including a new president), created three new departments, and orchestrated a re-org. We are now experiencing a surge of growth—but it’s had a price tag.
Over the course of the year, I’ve been able to meet with our leaders and listen to them. I’ve been in closer touch with them than I’ve been for a while. This up-close-and-personal time has unveiled some themes that they’ve wanted to talk about—and the changes we’ve undergone have helped me discover them. Let me offer them to you as topics you may want to cover with your team:
The Normalization of Defects
Every organization (including schools, sports teams, and universities) experience the normalization of defects. Our new president, Steve Moore, brought this to light as we discussed examples of teams that failed to create efficient systems because they were satisfied with “workarounds.” Think about your own life. Things may go wrong with your car—a passenger door handle requires a jiggle to open, a light on the dashboard won’t go off, or a noise under the hood won’t go away—but you find a way to put up with it without making it more efficient.
In our organization, we began talking about the defects in our systems that we put up with because our workarounds seem doable. We still feel successful. The negative impact is tolerable, or the cost-benefit is acceptable. Our discussions sparked all kinds of discoveries about making our systems better.
Discussion Starter: What system or process do you currently have in place that feels clunky and inefficient? Might there be a better way to reach your goal?
During times of change, it is imperative that leaders communicate more clearly and frequently with their teams. Why is this? Because in times of change, people feel uneasy; they aren’t completely certain about the “new normal” and often feel insecure. In these times, people can unwittingly create narratives in their minds that are inaccurate or exaggerated. Negativity can prevail because “people are down on what they’re not up on.” This is why we must over-communicate and repeat ourselves. Like a flight attendant during a turbulent flight, we must remain poised and offer the same assurances to our people.
In our organization, I met with team members who felt uneasy about all the changes taking place and needed me to communicate a clear vision and game plan. Over and over again. Our leaders learned to never assume people understand what’s happening and communicate empathy before anything else.
Discussion Starter: What changes are you experiencing now? What narratives need adjusting? How can clear and constant communication solve the problem?
Giving and Receiving Feedback
Offering transparent feedback is an art, one that many leaders find difficult. We live in a day when giving feedback can be deemed as offensive, critical, and intolerant. Many parents did not raise their millennial children to know how to receive critical feedback. We likely gave out too many trophies and too much praise. Yet, feedback is essential for growth. We all have blind spots, and team cultures must be established for people to feel safe and vulnerable for such candor. Authors Doug Stone and Sheila Heen suggest feedback can be fit into three buckets: affirmation, coaching, and evaluation. Sometimes feedback is invited and sometimes not, but healthy teams always prepare their people for it.
Our team has desired candid feedback—both on the giving and receiving end. We live in a culture that is hungry for authentic feedback but often pushes it away at the same time. When we create environments that are safe and filled with belief, candor actually improves us. Growing Leaders has embodied this recently.
Discussion Starter: Does your team practice safe and candid feedback? Which is most frequent: affirmation, coaching up, or evaluation. How could you improve?