The Dreaded 8-Letter Word: FEEDBACK

Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let people see you value both feedback and ideas.  ~Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

Last week was packed full of feedback. My week started by facilitating a leadership team in an exercise to ease them into experiencing accountability  They each wrote down the greatest strength and one area of improvement for every other team member.  Then we began with the CEO. Each person first told him his greatest strength and then we went around the room one more time and each identified an area they believed he could improve upon. Then the CEO could respond to what he had heard.  We repeated that process for every team member. 

What became a common theme throughout this exercise was how genuinely appreciative everyone was for the feedback. This was not a painful process (as some had feared); in fact, there was a sufficient amount of laughter interspersed throughout the exercise.  As the final member of the team gave his response to what he heard from his colleagues, he provided the perfect closing to this session.  He said, "after doing this, I sense a greater level of trust among this group." Feedback is a gift!

Next I spent time poring through the results of an employee satisfaction survey for another organization.  Like every organization, they heard both praises and pitfalls from their employees.  What followed from the CEO was not rationalization or defensiveness in response to the negative comments, but a plan of action that was already being put into place to address areas of concern.  Without this feedback, these potential pitfalls could continue to grow and fester and cause irreparable damage.  Feedback is a gift!

In another scenario, I learned that a supervisor is covering for one of their direct reports by trailing them and then "fixing" what doesn't get fully completed. In this situation feedback is being avoided. The consequence is that the direct report's credibility is being undermined because other people know that this supervisor is trailing them and picking up the pieces. This supervisor is forgetting that feedback doesn't have to be painful. In fact, feedback is a gift!

On a more personal note, I admittedly struggle with perfectionism. Sometimes I'll avoid doing something or trying something because I know I won't be able to do it perfectly. How shameful if I can’t perform perfectly! I was coached through this dilemma this week. One of my strengths (I'm using StrengthsFinder language) is "learner."  Part of the learning process is receiving feedback so you can change and improve. If I can reframe my thinking from "not being perfect" to "an opportunity to learn" by receiving feedback I could maybe get beyond my not so helpful obsession with perfectionism. So my mantra needs to become: Feedback is a gift!

Dr. Henry Cloud in his book, Integrity, recounts an incident that happened on a retreat for CEOs, when a young "superstar" was given an opportunity to receive feedback from a more senior CEO.
One of the more experienced guys looked up and said, "Want some feedback?" He said it in a way that left you wondering whether he was going to give sage advice or rail at the young man for being out to lunch in some way. There was just no way to tell from his poker face. But I will never forget the young superstar's immediate response: "By all means. Give me a gift." He saw the feedback, whatever it was, as a gift because it could give him some reality that he did not know. I remember thinking, "We will be watching this guy's accomplishments for a long time."
Feedback is a gift!

Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

How You Spend Your Time Reflects What You Value

Anyone who has worked in a professional services environment understands the value (and the drudgery) of tracking your time. In those instances, it’s generally for financial purposes such as billing and tracking performance metrics such as utilization and efficiency. But, have you ever considered tracking your time to increase your awareness of how you’re spending it? And, better yet, to see how that expenditure aligns with your values?

One of the things I love about teaching is how much I learn about myself along the way, and this semester was no exception. I assigned my undergraduate students the task of tracking their time (download the tracker they use), in 30 minute increments, for two weeks. They were to write down how they spent their time, including working, attending classes, spending time with family/friends, school work, church activities, exercising – whatever. After the tracking was complete, I asked them to force rank their top 10 and then top 5 values. Finally, they had to assign the values to their time entries, effectively giving them a map of how their values are reflected in time spent. Many of them reported what an eye opening experience it was – everything from how much sleep was lost playing video games or on the internet to disbelief that it had been days since they had communicated with family members.

Uncomfortable with the truth
Participating along with them this semester was an eye opener for me. Not only did I find hidden pockets of wasted time, but I found myself squirming when I had to write down that I had lost an hour tooling around on the internet or watching a TV show that I couldn’t remember after I turned it off. I also took an honest look at how my time aligned with my values, and found it to be lacking in certain areas.

Since completing the exercise, I have found myself much more focused on activities that are important to me and that align with my values. I have also been more productive, and I find myself feeling less often that “I don’t have enough time,” because when I am focus on spending it on people and activities that are important to me, I make the time count.

To put this idea to work in your organization, you might informally ask people to track their time in a similar fashion, and then audit those entries against the organization’s stated values and mission. If you already track time, you have valuable data at your fingertips already. Is there a significant amount of time spent in meetings about topics that don’t align with your values? How much time is being spent specifically on tasks that do align with the company’s values? Are there certain roles where a significantly lower percentage of time is spent on work that aligns with the values? If you value relationships, for example, how much time was spent developing relationships?

Armed with this knowledge you can determine what requires alignment: your mission and values, or the focus of the tasks and work effort.

Shannon Brown is a Ph.D. student at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) and a VP for Exemplify. She has served in leadership positions with Thomson Reuters and Tata Consultancy Services. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at Dominican University where she teaches courses in leadership studies.


More from Shannon:

It Ain’t Easy: Why a Leader’s Values Matter in Strategic Planning

We were sitting in the executive boardroom, participating in a fairly routine strategic planning meeting when I had a frightening realization: it was suddenly clear the CEO did not buy into the vision for the change initiative he was leading.
I surreptitiously looked around the room. Was anyone else noticing this? I had come on board in the middle of the change process and somehow it was like the emperor’s new clothes. How had a strategy been created, and a large number of dollars invested, when the leader didn’t know where he wanted to go?
I wish this were an isolated incident, but I see it all too often: the leader has moved, sometimes aggressively, down a path about which he or she feels all too uncertain. Somewhere the strategy became misaligned with the leader’s vision and values. For a change initiative to be successful, the leader needs to do the hard work to create a vision they truly believe in and can articulate from a place of truth.
Values & Strategy
When I first entered business school, years ago, I naively expected that studying strategy would be intuitive. I presumed strategy involved the correct application of analysis tools and approaches – almost like following a recipe. Many strategy courses later I understood it was far more than that. Five forces analyses and resource-based views, and the latest jargon and models, are just the starting places. Creating and implementing good strategy is an art, not a recipe. And it most certainly requires the whole-hearted belief and vision-alignment of the senior leader.
The issues facing today’s leaders are characterized by complexity. Within this context, leaders who are grounded in a sense of their core values will be better equipped to move beyond the simple application of strategic tools and into the practice of the difficult art of strategy in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Standing in their own truth will give them a firmer foundation for leading others in an environment of ongoing and often rapid change.
The tools of strategy are important, but I’m convinced the soft skills of the business are equally, if not more, valuable. There is an illusion that applying certain analytic tools can help to mitigate the risk associated with leading strategic change. However, in my experience, while there’s a place for the numbers approach, it works best in combination with soft skills. In fact, the real risk of a change process often lies in failure to consider the soft skills needed to bring people along with the process. These soft skills, which are often values-based, can be crucial to long-term strategic success. At the end of the day strategy involves people, and leaders need to be able to deal with both the quantitative and people aspects of the strategy equation.    
            So how could a smart leader adopt a values-based approach to strategy? These four suggestions are drawn from my experience as an executive, consultant, and academic.
  1. Identify and create positive values alignment:
The strong movements in CSR and sustainability illustrate the desire on the part of many for alignment in being part of an organizational culture which reflects their core positive values. Leadership can be instrumental in creating such a culture. As described by Schein (2004) the role of the leader involves both being shaped by and shaping organizational culture. But to create a culture of shared values with alignment between culture, strategy and action, requires self-knowledge on the part of the leader as well as the organization.
  1. Plan time for reflection:
In his book From Values to Action, Harry Kraemer (2011) emphasizes the need for leaders to be reflective. In order to lead from and create a culture of shared values leaders need to know who they are and what they truly believe. This involves taking the time to reflect and know oneself and ultimately accept oneself. Self-acceptance can lead to becoming more accepting of others and being able to hear their truths as well as your own. Such openness can help leaders create a value-based culture which encourages the type of communication that facilitates best practice solutions and implementations.
  1. Use values as a base for cross-cultural work:
Strategic plans almost always require us to work cross-culturally – whether it’s a new market on the other side of the world, or integrating the understanding of your employees from the factory floor. In some cases, people may be motivated by the same desires, respond to the same rewards, and are excited by shared ideas. Study the values at work in the cultures of your organization, and find their connection point to your strategy. People can feel the authenticity that comes from value-alignment, even across differing languages.
  1. Lead from the heart:
As advocated by Kouzes and Posner (2011), leadership is an affair of the heart, and involves leaders loving what they are doing and who they are leading. I would advocate empathy as a key core value in this regard. Strategic leadership can be more effective if leaders understand their followers and can imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes. For successful strategic outcomes, empathy matters, always.  
Becoming a successful strategic leader can be a difficult journey. Leadership is challenging and strategy is tough and risky. But with an alignment of core values informing strategy, there is far greater likelihood of success.

Carolyn Maraist has over 15 years experience in management consulting including strategy consulting. In addition she recently spent five years teaching at Zhejiang University in China. She is currently a director in a firm specializing in education and health care for children with special needs. She is working on a leadership curriculum project with an external provider in the educational sector.  
Carolyn holds a doctorate in higher education and organizational change from Benedictine University. She also holds an MBA with Honors from the University of Chicago as well as a master’s degree from Oxford University. She is pursuing a doctorate in values-based leadership atBenedictine University

Read more from Carolyn: Wicked & Dark: Advocating for Complexity in Sustainability Pedagogy

Driving Enterprise Change: Global Expert to Lead Next Executive Roundtable on Agile Leadership

CHICAGO - Bill Pasmore, a global expert on change management at the top executive level, will lead the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's (CVDL) next Senior Executive Roundtable, the CVDL announced today. 

The roundtable is scheduled for April 5th, from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Registration and additional information at

Dr. Pasmore is the Organizational Practice Leader for the Center for Creative Leadership, and a visiting scholar at Columbia Teachers College. He has served as an executive consultant to companies such as Kimberly Clark, United Airlines, Unilever, and Hewlett Packard. 

"Bill has worked for decades with the CEOs and top leaders of global companies, helping them drive enterprise-wide change," said Dr. Jim Ludema, director of the CVDL. "He brings a unique perspective - grounded in research and tested through application - for anyone who wants to drive change in a competitive, complex environment." 

Tom Walter, author of "It's My Company Too!" and CEO and Chief Culture Officer of Tasty Catering, will join Pasmore to provide practical examples of how a nimble organization can adapt sustainably. 

Driving Enterprise Change: Leadership Strategies for Agile Organizations is a half-day roundtable designed to equip senior leaders with the to 
  • Create an agile, non-linear strategy for driving change;
  • Manage competing priorities within your organization to increase focus and results;
  • Draw on the existing resoucres of your organization's invisible networks;
  • Accelerate change through relationships;
  • Establish ongoing evolution processes that help you keep pace with the future. 
The roundtable is designed for senior leaders, and is open to the public. Registration is $100/person and includes a book and admission and parking at the venue, the Morton Arboretum. Learn more and register here