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Part 3 – How a business coach provides accountability and outside perspective that almost nobody else can

I have always looked forward to my performance reviews, because I thought that at least once a year, I would get honest feedback about my performance. Having spent 8 years in the US Marine Corps Reserve, I have taken to heart the USMC leadership principle, “Know yourself and seek self-improvement.” I enjoy looking through the Johari window and understanding better what others see that I don’t, so that I can manage those aspects of my behavior that get in my way. I guess I’m a sucker, though, because out of 11 corporate performance reviews that I can remember, I received specific feedback that I could act on 3 times. One review went like this:

  • Supervisor: Generally, you’re doing great, and doing everything I’ve asked. I’d like to see you take the bull by the horns more. (I have received praise in previous roles as someone who takes initiative, so…)
  • Me: Okay, I love taking on challenges. Can you give me an example where I needed to take the bull by the horns more?
  • Supervisor: Well, you know, when you see something, just do it. Take the bull by the horns.
  • Me: I’m still not sure I understand. Can you describe a time when you saw a bull that I didn’t take it by the horns?
  • Supervisor: Well, I can’t think of any specific examples, but just, you know. Be a little more assertive.


 
This went on for two or three rounds of my asking for clarification. Not one specific or well-articulated definition of the feedback, positive or negative. Just that my chances for promotion and bonus will all depend on my ability to keep doing what I was doing, except with more bull horn (is that like more cow bell?).

By contrast, I was venting to one manager about how nobody seemed to be listening to my ideas in a meeting. He told me that he had noted in that same meeting that I came across as defensive a couple times, which was undermining my persuasiveness. He then gave me a couple tips about “owning my stuff” in those meetings. “If someone levels a criticism, for example, how about you don’t get mad about it but instead just own it? Say something like, ‘That’s great feedback, and I’ll make sure I apply that feedback next time.’ It gives you the power in the conversation again, because once you own it, the other person lets go of it. Then you’re in a better place to make the point you wanted to make. Until then, it’s getting in your way, and you’re the only one who can control that.” Now THAT’s useful feedback!

Have you found it difficult to get honest and useful feedback at work? This topic picks up where my previous post, Part 2 – How coaches reflect back to people things they don’t see in themselves, finishes. In that post, I mentioned that the people around us might not give us honest or useful feedback for all sorts of reasons. Your manager (and your spouse, your family, and your friends) all have various motivations and biases acting on the relationship that a coach does not. A coach is not biased by an agenda for you beyond the goals and agenda for change that you have come to coaching with. Instead of just being interested in your performance at work, the coach will consider your work goals as one part of the greater context of your life. A coach doesn’t have a finite pie of bonus money to split among several people, for example. A good coach takes relational risks, because honest feedback is the only kind that can affect lasting change. Further, a good coach can help you get very specific about the behaviors that are working for you and against you, in part because the coach has time to explore and reflect with you in ways that others might not. Given more specific feedback, the coach can work with a client to explore the issue, mutually understand its mental and emotional landscape, and craft very specific practices aimed at changing the behavior. Ultimately, achieving lasting change is what clients find most valuable about coaching.


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