From 360-Degree Anonymous Feedback to 365 Face-to-Face Feedback - Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today - Susan Scott

Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today - Susan Scott (2009)

Fierce Practice #1. From 360-Degree Anonymous Feedback to “365” Face-to-Face Feedback

Tell me tell me tell me tell me TELL ME!

—THE MOVIE ALWAYS, WITH HOLLY HUNTER AND RICHARD DREYFUSS

When I give talks, there’s always a sound check to make sure that when I start talking, the audience won’t be deafened by an ear-shattering, high-pitched squeal coming out of the microphone. What’s that cringe-inducing sound called? Feedback.

Feedback has a bad rap. Think about it. When was the last time you heard somebody say, “Oh, boy, oh, boy, I get my performance review today!” Unless they suspect they will be overheard by the person who gave them their most recent review, most people would probably tell you they’d rather be forced to watch Jerry Springer exclusively than receive feedback on any aspect of their professional or personal performance. If you asked them to say more, my money’s on a rant.

Several weeks ago, I was sitting with twenty student council members at Miss Hall’s School, a college-prep school for girls in the Berkshires that works to develop authenticity, strength, and leadership in its students. The young women had been asked to anonymously write a few sentences on how they felt about their classmates, and now they were going around a large table as each student commented on the anonymous feedback she had just received from her peers. Most of the young faces were tight, anxious. Several girls sat back with arms folded across their bodies. Most looked down, avoiding eye contact. Comments were clipped, careful.

“I guess I don’t know who my friends are.”

“Pass.”

“Pass.”

“I really don’t know what to say.”

This was not a joyful gathering. We were halfway around the table when we came to a girl who was sitting on a windowsill. I had noticed the intensity with which she had listened to each comment. She leaned forward.

“Hey, everybody, I’m really, really glad I have this feedback, so thank you! And I guess what I want to say is: I hope you keep telling me the truth about how you view me, positive or negative. And don’t even wait to be asked! Tell me when something happens, right when you’re thinking of it. Because if you don’t, I probably won’t know, and I want to, I really do, because your feedback is the only way I’ll understand what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. And that’s the only way I can learn about myself and make changes!”

It was clear she meant every word, and in the seconds it took to say what she said, energy returned to the stale room. Eyes lifted and shoulders dropped as the girls gazed at her and located in themselves that place in all of us that recognizes—someone is here.

Since this was an opportunity for self-generated insight, the best kind, I sat quietly, trying not to broadcast my thoughts: “Look out, world. We have a leader here.” And, of course, there was no need for my input. The comments from the rest of the girls were direct and sincere. This time, no one said, “Pass.” They looked at each other and at their colleague on the windowsill with renewed respect, affection, and that loveliest characteristic of all, humility.

A Dangerous Idea

Meanwhile, back in the world of adults, I wondered if others shared my growing conviction that a particular “best practice” associated with performance reviews—anonymous feedback—is failing to achieve its desired results. So one day, while giving a keynote speech to an auditorium filled with executives from a wide variety of organizations, I decided to find out.

I explained that many clients contact my company because they would like to improve their organizations in the areas of honesty, openness, and transparency. Then I paused and asked the audience members to raise their hands if their organization’s mission, vision, or values statement mentioned these things. Most hands went up.

I then asked the audience to raise their hands if their organizations provided 360-degree anonymous feedback. Another sea of hands went up, though the audience seemed puzzled. Where is she going with this?

“Okay, here’s an opportunity to practice squid eye. If an organization declares that it values honesty, openness, and transparency, what’s the tell in the words 360-degree anonymous feedback?”

There was silence, followed by a collective, audible “anonymous!”

“Congratulations. You just spotted your first squid!”

Feedback is invaluable. It’s the anonymous part that gets us in trouble. We’re like Woody Allen, who said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” We’re not afraid of feedback. We just don’t want to be in the room when it’s delivered. An Australian colleague told me that when he was taught how to deliver a feedback report to someone, one of the instructions was: “Be sure you are not near a large body of water.”

It starts early in our impressionable lives—this attraction to anonymity. This hiding. So it’s no wonder that, although most organizations profess to value openness, transparency, trust, respect (yeah, yeah, yeah), when there are invaluable opportunities for candor, we send in good old underpaid, overworked “anonymous,” slip the feedback over the transom, and run like hell.

I discovered an ally regarding my view of this “best practice” in Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired and the author of Cool Tools. Each year, a scientific foundation called Edge Foundation asks dozens of scientists one provocative question. Recently, in response to the question “What is your dangerous idea?” Kevin suggested the idea “More anonymity is good.” He wrote:

Fancy algorithms and cool technology make true anonymity in mediated environments more possible today than ever before. … However, in every system I have seen where anonymity becomes common, the system fails. Anonymity is like a rare-earth metal … a necessary ingredient in keeping a cell alive, but the amount needed is a mere hard-to-measure trace. In larger doses these heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances. In vanishingly small doses, it’s good for the system by enabling the occasional whistleblower or persecuted fringe. But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system. … Trust requires persistent identity. In the end, the more trust the better. Like all toxins, anonymity should be kept as close to zero as possible.

Like all toxins, anonymity should be kept as close to zero as possible.
—Kevin Kelly

Well said! Just look at the definition.

a · non · y · mous (e nä ne mes)

Function: adjective

1. not identified by name; of unknown name: an anonymous phone call

2. having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features; unremarkable or impersonal: a faceless, anonymous group

3. used in names of support groups for addicts of a substance or behavior to indicate the confidentiality maintained among members of the group: Alcoholics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous

In what universe would anonymous feedback, anonymous anything, be considered a best practice? No one I know wishes to be unremarkable, impersonal, faceless, or unknown—and it would be difficult to argue that anonymity enriches relationships or strengthens connection with others. The fact is that anonymous feedback rarely creates real or lasting impetus for change, which is crazy because the whole idea is to encourage professional growth. There are several problems:

In what universe would anonymous feedback, anonymous anything, be considered a best practice?

1. Anonymous feedback doesn’t tell us what we really need to know because it is ANONYMOUS, and most people don’t provide specific examples to support their evaluations because more specifics might help the recipient guess who wrote them (and Lord help us if that should happen)! So we avoid specifics and instead use sanitized phrases and a “score” of some sort, all of which tells the recipient very little about how to improve his or her performance. Conversations meant to create impetus for change fail because we don’t know how to deliver the message without the load or how to praise people in such a way that they can tell we really mean it.

2. When the feedback is given at regular intervals, usually coming as it does once or twice a year, it rarely immediately follows the behavior that generated the evaluations, so exactly what we did right or wrong to merit a certain evaluation often remains a mystery. We are embarrassingly clueless about how our behavior affects others anyway, so unless we get timely, specific feedback, our internal reaction to anonymous comments and ratings is either “This is totally bogus. I haven’t done anything to deserve this!” or “This means I need to change something. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clue what that change should be.” And even if the feedback is positive, the reaction is “I must be doing something right. If only I knew what it was, I’d do more of it.”

3. Most so-called 360-degree feedback merely affirms what we already know about who we have been since the day we were born. We’re pretty hardwired and unlikely to change. I offer myself as exhibit A. Thirty years after my first assessment, my strengths are still my strengths and my weaknesses are still my weaknesses. I am great at catching people up in the vision and a disaster when it comes to organization. My desk is a hazard area. I’d unplug the technical gizmo that I haven’t used in two years but that I got because I’m an early adopter and compulsively adopt myself from one device I don’t know how to use to a sexier device I don’t know how to use (I digress), but I can’t identify the plug in the tangle of wires beneath my desk. To find a paper clip, I have to sort through Kiehl’s lip balm, the little device used to peel the backing off labels, five or six keys (to what, I have no idea), and a rubber lizard inside a squeeze ball filled with what looks like frog eggs (I found it on a podium at Microsoft. They said I could have it), plus other dwelge and lint. All this to say that organizations assess people to death at great expense, with very little new information or change to show for it. Our reaction is, “Yep, that’s me, all right!” Creating real impetus for change requires extraordinarily compelling feedback that is clear, insightful, well thought out, specific, and delivered face to face by someone who has observed us in action long enough and thoughtfully enough to tell us something about ourselves that gets our full attention. So 360-degree anonymous feedback fails on all counts.

4. Anonymity is addictive and contagious. We grow accustomed to withholding our real thoughts and feelings. We become anesthetized, barely registering the consistent message our gut has been sending us for years: Tell the truth. And we infect others. Ask yourself, where else does anonymity live in the organization and what damage is it doing? At what level in the organization? In what other situations are people withholding what they really think and feel? What are the implications?

So what gives? What is it about this shared addiction that has us in its grasp?

It’s our addiction to safety, to being comfortable. Our hardwired tendency to avoid discomfort, even if momentary. And remarkably, it isn’t just discussing “weaknesses” and “opportunities for improvement” that makes us nervous; we are also uncomfortable expressing gratitude and giving and receiving praise up close and personal.

What is it we fear?

The consequences of authenticity—intimacy and vulnerability. We fear being real, being ourselves, disclosing our real thoughts and feelings, being seen, being known. It’s time to change all that.

Practicing Squid Eye

What might you notice if you were practicing squid eye that would suggest anonymous feedback is causing more problems than it’s solving? Check any of the following tells that apply to your team or organization. Or to you.

Most people hate performance reviews. It’s a strong word, hate—hardly the response you’d hope for regarding a best practice. Other emotions associated with performance reviews include dread, anxiety, hopelessness, fear, frustration, and a firm conviction that a trip to the bathroom for a surreptitious examination of the boil on your backside would be a far better use of your time. Behaviors associated with performance reviews include anger, defensiveness, withdrawal, and a strong desire to watch movies in which bad guys are impaled, shot, or poisoned, having been revealed as the forces of evil that they are.

Even anonymous feedback isn’t honest! This may be the most bizarre, unexpected tell of all. When no one will know it was us, you’d think we would tell it like it is, or at least like we see it. We don’t. Jack Welch disclosed in his book, Straight from the Gut, that he eliminated anonymous feedback at GE because even that wasn’t honest, wasn’t true. How real are you when it comes to anonymous feedback? Do you pull back from letting people know how upset or concerned you are, even anonymously?

Triangulation (otherwise known as talking about people behind their backs) is a popular bonding activity. Friendships are formed over person A and person B’s mutual loathing of person C. People don’t talk directly to the persons with whom they have difficulty. Instead, they talk about them behind their backs. And what fun it is to bring each other up to date on the latest chapter: “You won’t believe what so-and-so just did!” Like Mae West, who said, “If you can’t say anything nice about people, sit by me!”

If you can’t say anything nice about people, sit by me!—Mae West

“Employee engagement” scores are low. Face it, the formal language of feedback is uninspiring and demotivating. Does “satisfactory” capture anything specific that we could feel good about? Would it inspire us to work harder, do better? How about “meets expectations”? Even “exceeds expectations.” The colorless language of anonymous feedback, with its numbers, ratings, and boxes to check, is soul killing. There is no life, no joy, no intimacy, no humanity, nothing that enriches relationships. It is a missed opportunity to connect with people. A missed opportunity to be acknowledged as the individuals we are.

People aren’t told how much they are appreciated. It’s a huge tell if your recognition program occurs every two weeks and is called a paycheck. More on this later.

When managers decide to make someone available to industry, they must wait or risk a lawsuit. If people haven’t been told that their performance or attitude is not acceptable and that their job is at stake, it is almost impossible to let them go. If you try, the person—even if aware at some level that he or she has been underperforming for quite some time—will likely claim innocence and ignorance: “I’m shocked! In my last three reviews, my work has been rated as ‘satisfactory,’ so I thought you were happy with everything I’ve been doing.” And when we finally reach the end of our rope and ask someone in Human Resources what we have to do to terminate this person, we learn that we’ll have to have the conversations we’ve avoided in the past, give the employee another chance, and document the heck out of everything.

You and others aren’t motivated to do your best work. If Jane keeps getting away with mediocrity, why am I busting my butt? We get what we tolerate. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not yet witnessed a spontaneous recovery from incompetence. Without timely, candid feedback, people whose behaviors or attitudes are a problem continue unchanged, blissfully unaware, dragging everyone down, including you. Even in a large team, one problem person becomes a rock in everyone’s shoes. If it’s the boss, the rock is a boulder. It’s a tell if, rather than remove the rock, we grow accustomed to limping, while execution is delayed and frustration grows.

Relationships flatline and fail. The conversation is the relationship. When the conversation stops because we don’t want to risk a negative reaction or if we add yet another topic—our assessments of each other’s performance—to the list of things we’re unable to talk about, the relationship stops and all of the possibilities for the relationship grow smaller, until one day we realize we’re making ourselves smaller in all our conversations.

There is no joy in Mudville. Employees walk around unhappy, unhealthy, on edge. Bored, unengaged. Letter openers and other sharp objects are surreptitiously removed from desk drawers. Your company is not a happy workplace. Just a workplace.

The culture suffers side effects. Most commercials for the latest, greatest drugs include the warning that side effects can include loss of vision, muscle spasms, internal bleeding, uncontrolled barking, and sudden death. Okay, maybe not barking, but you get the drift. The warnings for anonymous feedback should read:

Not to be used within organizations that value honesty, transparency, or openness or by anyone who views authenticity as a desirable character trait. Side effects can include a culture of terminal niceness, avoiding or working around problem employees, tolerating mediocrity, skirting the issues. If you experience rapidly deteriorating relationships or have difficulty maintaining eye contact with others, call your doctor immediately, as these may indicate a serious problem and could become permanent.

The organization’s Iong-term survival is at risk. Profits are down, customers are departing in droves, good employees are leaving. This occurs in part because an organization professing to value honesty and openness while promoting anonymous feedback is out of integrity. Companies in which stated values actually drive behavior and decisions will weather tough times far more successfully than companies whose practices are at odds with their values statements.

Respect for leaders is waning. Everyone is thinking, How could you, our leader, allow this to continue? Would somebody please bell the cat?!

You become invisible. No matter what your title or role, if you remain silent in the presence of poor performance or a lousy attitude, you will become increasingly invisible to yourself and to others. Yes, you will be safe. You will also be anonymous, undifferentiated, your identity blurred. With mounting unease, you may realize that you are what’s missing. It is impossible to sustain forward motion when you know who you are and default on it on a regular basis.

People are failing to grow professionally and personally. It’s hard to imagine anyone of substance saying, “I’m so glad I’ve remained blissfully unaware of how others feel about me, enjoyed few insights into my character, and experienced zero growth as a human being.” Those who play it safe, who avoid addressing performance issues and/or talk about people behind their backs can be found on any street corner. And they are unlikely to be viewed by those who identify, develop, and promote “high potentials” as leadership material. Because they aren’t.

What Were We Thinking?

If you’ve spotted one or more of these tells in your organization, you may be asking yourself, “What were we thinking?”

Well, to cut us some slack, we were thinking. We’ve required that feedback be anonymous because our long-standing beliefs, grounded in experience, convince us that this is how we’ve always done it, this is how it has to be. The problem is that these beliefs, justifiable though they are, squarely block the way forward. In fact, all of the worst “best” practices in this book were born of beliefs that require rethinking. Beliefs like People won’t be honest if their comments aren’t anonymous, or It’s too risky to tell people what I really think.

Tell us something is true long enough and we will believe it. Call anonymity necessary. Tell us we can’t handle the truth spoken directly to us. If we say it enough times, it must be right. Let’s all hide.

Complicating matters is that since we like to be right about our beliefs, we will ignore evidence to the contrary. It bounces off our internal screen entirely, as in the illustration below. On the other hand, evidence, however circumstantial, that supports our beliefs not only gets through, it reinforces those beliefs, even if they bring us pain and complicate our lives. For example, if you believe that someone is basically evil, information to the contrary won’t get through your filter, even if he or she saves a drowning puppy in front of your eyes. But if he or she messes up (in your opinion), that information registers; it shoots straight through. “See, I told you so!”

Tell us something is true long enough and we will believe it. Call anonymity necessary. Tell us we can’t handle the truth spoken directly to us. must be right. Let’s all hide.

WHAT ARE WE WINNING?

Insisting on clinging to beliefs that don’t serve us and convincing ourselves and others that we’re right can have enormous consequences, and not just in the workplace.

Jim Sorensen, a master facilitator with Fierce, told me a true story. Jim was preparing to leave Seattle to lead a training session for one of our clients and asked his wife, Brenda, to take care of something for him while he was gone. He emphasized that it was critically important, and she assured him she’d get it done.

“Promise?” “Promise!”

When he returned home and asked about it, Brenda gulped, apologized, and admitted she had forgotten. In disbelief, Jim began to rage. “I can’t believe this! You promised you’d handle it!” “I know. I’m really sorry. I—”

He cut her off, furious. “If you loved me, you could not possibly have forgotten to do something this important to me!”

“Jim, I feel awful. Things just got crazy busy and—”

He cut her off again. “There is NO excuse! Some who loves me would not forget to do something that important after they promised they’d do it!”

“Jim, please, I’m really sorry. I love you, and—”

“I don’t want to hear it. I told you this was critical! If you loved me, you would have kept your promise.”

Brenda stood very still, then quietly asked, “Jim, what do you win if you win this argument?”

And it hit him. If Jim won this argument, he would have convinced himself and Brenda that she didn’t love him. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and he knew it.

Sometimes when we’re right, our only prize is a sour taste in our mouth, sadness, a negative view of humanity, anger, stress. What are we winning?

If we want to truly change the practices that are holding us back, we need to challenge our beliefs—even when it’s hard to do so. Physicist David Bohm wrote, “Normally, our thoughts have us rather than we having them.” It is important to occasionally hang our beliefs out in front of us, so we can begin to see our “seeing.”

What argument am I waging? Are you waging? What are we trying to be right about?

The question is not whether our beliefs are right or wrong. We can tell the stories, point to the evidence, build an impressive case. You’re right! Who could possibly argue with the facts? The question is, how are your beliefs working for you? Those with a “positive” context are those that move you toward what you want. Those with a “negative” context move you away from it.

Before considering the fierce alternative, take a look at the list of beliefs on the next page and check those you currently hold. Since at its most basic, “fierce” is about telling the truth, be honest with yourself.

The Fierce Practice: “365” Face-to-Face Feedback

Here are the simple rules of 365 face-to-face feedback:

· Stay current by exchanging feedback 365 days a year.

· Do it face to face whenever possible (and never via e-mail).

· Give it as soon as possible after something occurs.

· Praise is as important as criticism. Actually, it’s more important. So don’t just give feedback when it’s negative.

· Always own your comments. Feedback is invaluable. It’s anonymity that is the problem.

The goal of the fierce practice is to have open, honest, face-to-face conversations, 365 days a year, with the people central to your success and happiness, whether you report to them, they report to you, or nobody reports to anybody. Give it and receive it. Set aside rank, title. If what someone does or how they do it impacts you, your coworkers, or your organization positively or negatively, talk with them directly. If it’s negative, no saving up, shoving down, keeping a lid on. No waiting until a formal performance review is scheduled. And be just as timely, generous, and specific with your praise.

When we save up our frustration for a formal performance review months from the actual event, it can feel like an ambush on an innocent person who truly has no idea what we’re talking about. I once discovered that someone was still devastated over something I had said years ago, of which I had no memory. If she had confronted me back then, I would have apologized. Hence the 365 days. When we stay current with one another, our formalperformance reviews will contain few, if any, surprises, because everyone will already know exactly how they’re doing. You will travel light, agenda free. And, of course, this cuts both ways.

is your context working for you?

(check all that apply to you)

Shifts in thinking result in changed behavior—the willingness and confidence to engage in the conversations needed to take your organization where it needs to go.

Welcome input on your own performance, behavior, and attitude. When someone expresses criticism or frustration, say, “Tell me more.” And mean it. Don’t defend yourself. Ask questions, listen, and learn. When someone praises you, say, “Thank you.” If you’re in a playful mood, add, “Would you care to elaborate?”

We drink in acknowledgment for work done well (and don’t think for a minute that senior executives don’t need praise now and then) and usually correct our course when we learn what isn’t working.

So if you’d like to replace anonymous feedback with conversations during which you come out from behind yourself into your conversations and make them real, what do you do?

Simply begin. Beginning is a practice. So is delaying, avoiding, postponing, rescheduling. You’ll cross the line between leadership and fierce leadership when YOU decide it’s time to cross the line. Don’t wait for others to bushwhack ahead of you and prove that it’s safe. Go first, alone if needed. Shouldn’t leaders set the example, model the behavior? Yes, ideally, and I’m speaking to the leader in you.

Beginning is a practice. So is delaying, avoiding, postponing.

Start anytime. Today would be excellent.

Might you be a bit anxious about how things will go? Undoubtedly. Everyone shares this challenge. But as a fierce leader, take the first step even if it scares the heck out of you.

The fourth principle in Fierce Conversations is “Tackle your toughest challenge today.” There’s no switch you can flip that will instantly wipe clean the slate on which your long-held beliefs are inscribed, so the fierce approach is to stop talking about it and start doing it! Dip your toes in the water and see how it goes.

The five steps to adopting any fierce practice are:

1. Prepare yourself.

2. Prepare others.

3. Try the practice. DO IT!

4. Debrief.

5. Do it again, only better.

Once you’ve begun the experiment, you will notice that no one will die, including you. In fact, you will discover that people wake up, that you wake up. People will surprise you. You will surprise you. The experience will shift your beliefs, not the other way around.

STEP 1. PREPARE YOURSELF.

Prepare to have the conversation in person. Before you give 365 feedback, prepare yourself for the conversation. For starters, come to terms with the fact that you will not have this conversation via e-mail! Master the courage to have the conversation face to face, rather than take the low road (the coward’s road, really) and send an e-mail. E-mails are impersonal, inauthentic, and easy to misinterpret. Everyone I know (and I mean EVERYONE) has had the painful experience of sending an innocent e-mail that was interpreted as evil by the recipient.

For example, just the other day, Jim Sorensen told me that since he doesn’t like to write long e-mails, his responses are almost always brief and succinct. Recently, someone e-mailed him something to review, and he responded simply, “Good job. Jim.” The return e-mail began with, “Well, it’s clear from the tone of your e-mail that you’re not happy with my work. …”

Tone? What tone?

In essence, all conversations are with ourselves, and sometimes they involve other people. We hear one another through our own private filters, interpreting as we go. Even when we speak directly, while I know what I said to you, I do not know what you heard. E-mail, both wonderful and perilous, triples the risk. I don’t know what it is about human beings, but when all we have are words on a screen, we will assign the worst possible interpretation to those words, ascribing meaning and motive that may have never crossed the sender’s mind. We will defend our interpretation to the death. And boy, do we often get it wrong. Sometimes we interpret accusation when it wasn’t intended. Or we interpret sarcasm when it doesn’t exist. (I tend to bond with people over sarcasm but toned it down when I learned that the word sarcasm is derived from the Greek word sarkazein, which means to tear flesh from the bone in a doglike fashion.)

If we confront via e-mail, well, we’re just asking for it!

Clarify (and purify) your intention. Another step in preparing yourself. Ask yourself: Is my intention to …

· interrogate reality (mine, as well as theirs);

· provoke learning (mine, as well as theirs);

· resolve a tough challenge; or

· enrich the relationship

If it is, you’re good to go.

If your intention is to intimidate, coerce, threaten, put down, or prove someone wrong, don’t have the conversation until you’ve had one with yourself. If I accomplish this, what will I win? Momentary satisfaction, perhaps. In the long term … not good.

When men and women come together, they have to abandon their longing for the perfect and each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.—Robert Bly

This is where compassion may enter the picture. Robert Bly wrote, “When men and women come together, they have to abandon their longing for the perfect and each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.” From one imperfect bird to another, let’s cut each other some slack and forgive what imperfections we can.

Now prepare your opening statement. If you read Fierce Conversations, this will be familiar to you. Clarify the behavior or attitude you want to confront and the key points you want to make. Write a rough draft, edit it, say it out loud, and edit it again until it is clear, clean, and compelling and you can say it in sixty seconds without rushing or looking at your notes. Yes, sixty seconds. Be selective with the words you speak, so that what you say will go straight to the heart.

Before you begin, review the following pointers.

“I need to talk to you. …” has a very different effect from “I want to talk with you. …”

· Name the issue. If you have multiple issues with someone, ask yourself what’s at the core, what’s the theme, the common thread of all or most of your issues with this individual. Give it a name. The problem named is the problem solved. (Not literally, of course, because there is still work to be done, but if you are not clear about what the core problem is, the conversation may veer off onto unproductive rabbit trails, and you will get nowhere, very slowly, at great emotional expense.) Begin your opening statement with the words “I want to talk with you about the effect x is having on y.” Note the use of I want, not I need. Note the use of with, not to. “I need to talk to you. …” has a very different effect from “I want to talk with you. …”

· Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior you want to change. Say something like, “When you spoke with that customer, you raised your voice, pointed your finger, and leaned forward. I thought you looked aggressive.” What not to say: “You were very aggressive with that customer.” To which someone might reply, “No, I wasn’t,” and then you’re into it! Behaviors are things that you can record with a camera. Examples bring them into sharp focus.

· Describe your emotions around the issue. Creating impetus for change is unlikely to occur if the conversation is purely head based. After all, human beings behave first for emotional reasons, second for rational ones. Emotion gives the lit match something to ignite. Telling people what emotions their behavior evokes in you is intimate and disarming. You are letting them know that you are affected. Note: There’s a difference between naming an emotion and acting it out. “I am angry,” spoken quietly and calmly, will get someone’s attention. “I am angry,” spoken with ferocity and a red face, will evoke fight or flight.

· Clarify what is at stake. Explain why you have whatever emotions you have, why this issue is important. What is at stake for the individual whose behavior you are confronting? What is at stake for you, for customers, for the team or organization, for the family? What is at stake for the relationship? Use the words at stake. These words have an emotional impact. “I am deeply concerned because I feel there is a great deal at stake here.” Be specific and succinct about possible outcomes. If someone’s continued behavior could result in termination, tell him or her. Be clear: “If nothing changes, you could lose your job.” Even when the message is a tough one, be respectful. Your task is to deliver the message without the “load,” so your tone of voice, posture, and facial expression are as important as your words.

· Identify your contribution to the problem. Rack your brain to see what, if anything, you may have done to contribute to the problem, and admit to it. If your fingerprints are on this issue somewhere and you don’t say anything about it, the other person will, and your credibility will be shot! Say, “I wasn’t clear with you about due dates and the implications when they’re missed. I want to correct that now,” or “I may have overloaded you with too many concurrent projects. If that’s the case, I apologize.” If you’re completely clean, skip this part; just don’t be too quick to declare your innocence.

· Indicate your wish to resolve the issue. Communicate your intention: “I want to resolve this. …” The word resolve has a positive connotation. Though there could be a termination—or a demotion or a lost account or a divorce—in the making if nothing changes, at this moment in time, you are expressing your genuine, sincere hope that things will successfully turn around. Then name the problem again, because even though you’ve been talking for only about fifty-five seconds, the other person may be in shock and have forgotten the topic: “I want to resolve this—the effect your conversations are having on customers.” This way you will have come full circle, beginning and ending with absolute clarity about the topic on the table.

· Invite your partner to respond. Feedback is not an attack or a one-way conversation. It begins with a clear and succinct statement describing the reality around this particular behavior or issue from one person’s point of view—yours—and then you must stop talking and listen. Extend the invitation to your coworker, boss, direct report, customer, spouse, friend, child to join the conversation: “Please tell me what’s going on from where you sit. I want to understand your perspective, learn your thoughts,” or words to that effect. Where most of us blow this conversation is when we go on and on and on without giving the other person a chance to respond. As soon as someone says something with which we disagree, we jump back in, give more examples, try to build a stronger case. The person on the receiving end of our monologue will tune out and gear up for a perceived fight.

· Avoid common errors. Make sure that your opening statement avoids the typical mistakes we’ve all made in the past.

Error 1: Beginning the conversation with “So, how’s it going?”

You already know how it’s going, and it’s not going well, so beginning the conversation this way is disingenuous. Besides, someone could easily respond with “It’s going fine” or “There’s been a little creative tension going on, but that’s normal. We’re on top of it.” Where do you go from here? Nowhere, except perhaps “Wrong answer!”

Error 2: The Oreo cookie, or, as Australians call it, “the crap-filled lolly”

This is when we begin by saying something nice, then whack someone with criticism, and finish with a flourish of compliments: “John, I saw the report you’re working on, and it’s looking good, but I heard that you’ve been extremely critical of people behind their backs, including me, and this is a serious problem, so we should talk about that, but first, I want you to know that I was really impressed with your proposal for the case study. Nice job there.”

This not only makes people crazy but also teaches them that since a compliment often prefaces a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus, they should be on alert, prepared to duck and cover or to defend themselves.

Acknowledging someone for good work is important and should be a separate conversation. (More about how to praise later.)

Error 3: Too many pillows

This is the most common error, otherwise known as softening the blow.

We all like to be liked and worry that others will get upset, be hurt by our words; consequently, we put cushions around the real topic of the conversation, and our intended message can get lost. I once heard that a woman who was on the brink of firing someone had a talk with the person and later learned that the employee had left the conversation thinking she was about to be promoted. How fun do you think the follow-up conversation was?

Error 4: Writing the script in advance

Too often, we decide how the conversation is going to go before we have it, playing it in 3-D, Technicolor, surround sound in our minds: “I’m going to say this to so-and-so, and they’ll get defensive and say such-and-such. I’m not going to like it, so I’ll say this back. … You know what, it’s not worth it!”

Sometimes we reject ourselves before others can. We decide we won’t get the promotion or raise we were considering asking for, so we don’t ask. We decide ahead of time that confronting someone about his or her performance won’t go well, will make things worse, so we don’t do it.

Sometimes we reject ourselves before others can.

Is it possible that we might have gotten the raise we wanted? Is it possible that confronting a problem could result in a happier, more productive relationship? Is it possible your partner won’t follow the script you wrote for him or her? I am often pleasantly surprised by people’s behavior, including my own.

Error 5: Machine-gun Nelly

Like the Kalahari dung beetle, which collects its feces on its back and flings it at its enemies when frightened (a seriously unattractive image designed to get your attention), we store up anger and frustration, and when an incident triggers all our fears, we hurl the entire load at someone who did not see it coming. And then we wonder why the conversation didn’t go so well.

Don’t imitate the dung beetle! For about three seconds, you might feel good getting everything off your chest (or back), at which point you will learn how the other person feels, which will not be pleasant. Talk about emotional wake!

An opening statement, broken up into these seven parts, could look like this:

John, I want to talk with you about the effect your tendency to talk about other people behind their backs is having on the team and on the organization.

I recently learned of a dozen exchanges in which you and Audrey expressed contempt for Sarah, yet I’m certain Sarah has no knowledge of your feelings. I also learned that you told Chris that you don’t know if you can continue working for a company that has such a flawed strategy, although in our strategy sessions, you’ve never raised a concern about what we’re doing. I learned that even though Martha asked for candid feedback on the article she wrote, you told someone else that you didn’t believe she could handle it.

Frankly, I’m stunned and deeply concerned …

… because there is a great deal at stake for our organization and for you. Talking about people behind their backs violates our company’s core values of honesty and transparency and contaminates our culture. And while you may not realize it, people you’ve talked about eventually learn of your disregard, and consequently, relationships key to your success are faltering, failing. Trust has vanished. In fact, I don’t feel I can count on you to give your honest input on anything. That’s toxic to our relationship, and I cannot allow this to continue, so please understand that if nothing changes, your job is on the line.

I am not entirely blameless here. Though I sensed that you sometimes withheld your real thoughts, I disregarded my instincts and did not press you to disclose what you were thinking. For that I apologize. I also didn’t take the time with you to emphasize that we take our core values—like honesty—very seriously. They are not just words on a plaque somewhere. We aim to live them.

I want us to resolve this issue—the effect your tendency to talk about people behind their backs and avoid direct conversations is having on the team and the organization.

I’m genuinely interested in learning your perspective on what’s going on with you and the team and whether you’re willing to behave differently.

Write your rough draft, and edit and hone it until it feels clean and clear to you. Practice saying it out loud, covering all seven points in sixty seconds, without looking at your notes.

If you do this well, those sixty seconds will be more useful and compelling than a year’s worth of anonymous feedback.

STEP 2. PREPARE OTHERS.

It may seem strange or unfair, but when I give feedback, I prefer not to prepare others too far in advance for the conversation. I don’t want them to worry about it, lose sleep, overprepare, or choose the armor or weapons they feel they may need, especially since weapons and armor won’t be needed. I often simply choose a time when I’m certain we’ll have at least half an hour for the conversation, walk in the door, and begin.

Most of the time, though, it’s a good idea to give someone a little advance notice that you would like to have a conversation. At least this allows the person to gather his or her thoughts and anticipate the issue you want to talk about so he or she won’t be caught completely off guard. At the very least, it assures that the person will set aside time for the conversation. Simply …

· Ask for time to talk: “Jane, I would like thirty minutes or so to talk with you about what happened in the meeting yesterday (or your response to a customer this morning, the missed deadline, whatever the issue is). What’s the earliest we can have a conversation?”

· Don’t say more, even if asked “What do you mean?” or “What are you talking about?” Just say, “I promise to be clear when we sit down together. When can we do that?”

· Don’t begin the conversation then and there unless you have prepared and both of you are able to give the conversation your complete focus for at least half an hour.

STEP 3. DO IT. HAVE THE CONVERSATION.

The bulk of the conversation takes place after your opening statement. With your opening statement, you have clarified the issue and extended an invitation for the person to respond, and now you are listening. This is where reality—yours and theirs—will most certainly be interrogated.

If your partner says something with which you take issue or violently disagree, resist the temptation to jump back in and build a stronger case. Simply listen. Ask questions. Don’t be satisfied with what’s on the surface. Dig for full understanding. The words I often use in this stage are “Say more about that.”

Do perception checks by paraphrasing what you think the other person is saying: “May I tell you what I’m hearing? I want to make sure I’ve understood you.” Stay away from hackneyed phrases like “help me understand …”

Let silence do the heavy lifting.

We are often severely tested during this phase. It is not easy to stay in listening mode during an interaction with someone whose comments make you want to strangle him or her on the spot. When we struggle to wrap our minds around someone’s alternative reality, we need to remember that each of us is interpreting what is said through our own highly individualized filter. Rather than get angry or upset if your partner says something you feel is off base, focus on examining your partner’s reality: “You’ve said … What’s behind that?”

It is not easy to stay in listening mode during an interaction with someone whose comments make you want to strangle him or her on the spot.

Remain in question mode for a while: “Given everything we’ve talked about, what do you feel needs to happen?” “What steps will you take? When will you take them? What could get in your way? How will you get beyond that? Is there anything you need from me or from others? When can I follow up?”

When you confront with clarity, openness, compassion, and skill, most people will join you in a search for a resolution to the problem. And if the invitation to have the conversation is declined, extend the invitation again. And again. If there is someone who consistently refuses to have the conversation that is needed, preface your opening statement by saying something like, “Nobody owns the entire truth about this issue, including me. I would like for the two of us to interrogate reality, side by side. Both of us may gain perspective. If we set aside the issue of who is right or wrong, we may both learn something.”

If someone came to you in this manner, you might wonder if he’d taken his meditation practice a tad too far, but it would probably get your attention.

I have used these exact words to prepare the way to address or help others address a highly charged issue. Use different words if you like, but do find the words to invite the open communication necessary to effect real change.

Counter popular defense tactics. Sometimes, when we have this kind of conversation, the other person will immediately go on the defensive and attempt to justify his or her behavior using one or more of the following tactics. Here’s how you can counter them:

· Denial: “It wasn’t me!” or “It never happened.”

If you weren’t present when the behavior or interaction under discussion occurred, this is likely what you’ll hear, which is one of the reasons I recommend that you require those who were present to have the conversation. Otherwise, stop denial in its tracks by saying something like, “I wouldn’t be talking with you if it were not clear that there’s a problem. You’ve blown up with customers repeatedly in the last few weeks. Tell me what’s going on from your perspective.” In other words, bring the conversation back to the problem you named.

· Defensiveness: “It wasn’t my fault, it was because of …”

An all-time favorite tactic in which people attempt to justify their behavior by going into details about why they did what they did: “How long have you known me?! I always take care of our customers, and I’m always professional, but if you had heard what that customer was saying about our company, in fact, what he said about you, well, I think I deserve a medal for my restraint!” Don’t get trapped here. You probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if there had been only one minor incident or complaint. Bring it back to the issue: “I understand your desire to give me the details about what happened, but I’d prefer to focus on the bigger issue—the effect repeated blowups with customers are having on them and on you.”

· Deflection: “It’s not about this, it’s about …”

Some people are skilled at changing the topic: “Okay, so I get a little upset with unreasonable customers, but I’m not the only one who does. Have you listened in on Jack’s conversations? He is downright rude. I don’t see you talking to him!” or “Do you have any idea how overloaded I am? I’ve got this project and that project, and everybody wants it now! Give me a break! I’m doing the best I can!” When you gently but firmly insist on keeping the conversation where it belongs—your serious concern about the effect x is having on y—people usually settle down and stick to the point. People care about how they are perceived, and if you keep the conversation focused, keep asking questions and listening, you will learn what’s really going on, including any contributions you may have made to the problem. I hate that part.

STEP 4: DEBRIEF.

A debrief is essential at the end of the conversation or in a follow-up conversation, to ensure that the parties leave the conversation with a mutual understanding of the points that have been made.

It’s always good to end a conversation by saying something like, “Thank you for hearing what I had to say and for sharing your perspective. Your success is important to me and I applaud your commitment to action. I want to stay current with you, so before we part, I welcome any thoughts you have about this conversation and how I can get better at giving feedback. For example, I noticed that I got a little defensive here and there, and I want to do better going forward.”

When we flag our own flaws, it’s easier for others to fess up to theirs. In the example above, it’s likely the other person will admit to any defensiveness on his or her part as well, which is always helpful.

Then check in with the person later to express your appreciation for the action they took, the change they made, et cetera. And if nothing has changed, have another conversation, making it clear that this issue is not going to go away and that you expect the person to step up to the plate.

STEP 5: DO IT AGAIN, ONLY BETTER.

Remember, the fierce practice is 365 feedback—that means giving feedback any time, any day, 365 days a year. Staying current. Face to face. If you need to confront someone’s performance, behavior, or attitude, do it. Don’t wait. Don’t hide behind e-mail. Fierce leaders don’t shy away from these conversations. They have them. And they get better and better over time. If a conversation doesn’t go so well, they try again.

“Jim, if you had her yard, in about six months, it would look like your yard.”

Jim Sorensen once told me a story that wonderfully illustrates why feedback should be ongoing. He was standing in his yard with a friend, admiring his neighbor’s yard, which was beautiful, luxurious, blooming, fragrant, and weedless. He said, “I sure wish I had her yard.” His friend said, “Jim, if you had her yard, in about six months, it would look like your yard.” Jim laughed and admitted that his neighbor does things to her yard that he doesn’t do to his: “When she sees a weed, she pulls it. When I see a weed, I resent it.”

Left to their own devices, weeds thrive, invite other weeds to join them, and eventually crowd out the flowers. Resentment accomplishes nothing. Good gardeners pull the weeds as soon as they spot them, understanding that weed pulling is not a once-a-year job. A garden requires ongoing maintenance. Think of your workplace as a garden and people’s negative behavior as weeds. If you notice them starting to crop up again, it’s time for more face-to-face feedback. (Not fertilizer. Don’t go there …)

Praising with Courage and Skill

As I’ve mentioned, feedback is all too often associated with the word negative. But in fact, positive feedback—praise, recognition, and acknowledgment—is the most powerful feedback of all. Fierce leaders express appreciation and gratitude up close and personal, in the moment. Their comments are authentic, specific, heartfelt. Consequently, the message is received and people glow. Some even hug people, and no one screams “inappropriate physical contact” or “hostile work environment” because they trust the intent.

Does praising people require courage, compassion, and skill? Yes. As crazy as it sounds, we’re just as lousy at praise as we are at confrontation. Maybe worse. Too often, our meager attempts fail to truly reach the people we acknowledge, and that’s a shame! What to do?

Besides spontaneous acknowledgments, one of my favorite exercises takes place with a team of up to twelve people. It takes about an hour and a half, and while you may wonder if you can spare that much time, believe me—it’s worth the investment. It’s called simply What I Appreciate About You.

STEP 1: PREPARE YOURSELF.

Think about your team and clarify what it is that you appreciate about each person. Get specific, genuine. Words like “You always do a great job” are lame and unspecific and won’t make it through our built-in barriers to accepting praise. Words like “During yesterday’s meeting about last quarter’s results, I was impressed when you described reality from where you sit without laying blame. You could have pointed fingers all over the place, and I suspect most people in your position would have, but you didn’t. It occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever heard you criticize others. I admire that in you. You’ve set the bar high for all of us, including me” … will land.

Specific, public praise is one of the most powerful, most underused leadership “tools” available to you.

What took you seconds to say will be remembered and savored, perhaps for a lifetime. And you will get more of the positive behavior you acknowledge.

You can acknowledge in private or in public. This particular exercise is public. When you praise someone publicly, others will want to demonstrate similar characteristics. In fact, specific, public praise is one of the most powerful, most underused leadership “tools” available to you.

STEP 2: PREPARE OTHERS.

Let your team know you’ve scheduled a meeting and that they will need to plan on an hour, uninterrupted, no distractions. When they ask what it’s about, just say, “I’m not telling you, but you’ll enjoy it, so be there!”

Meanwhile, in a room that will afford privacy, arrange chairs in a circle, no table. Ideally, you’ll also bring an audio recording device with a good microphone that can pick up voices from a short distance.

STEP 3: HAVE THE CONVERSATION.

As people enter the room and see chairs in a circle, some will joke, and everyone may be a little nervous: “What is this?”

Just smile, get everyone seated, and ask them to put anything they were carrying under their seats and turn off their cell phones and other devices that could beep or vibrate. They’ll likely jostle and joke. Wait until everyone is quiet.

Scan the group, making eye contact with each individual, and say your version of the following:

When each of you walks into this building every day, you bring something unique that would be greatly missed if you were absent. Everything you do, including the way in which you do it, is amplified across our organization. Your impact is larger than you know, so I’d like you to hear what I and everyone in this room appreciates about you.

Here’s how this will go. Each of you will take a turn in the warm seat. You’ll have sixty seconds to complete the phrase “What I bring to this team is …”

Then each of us will take up to one minute to tell you something specific and genuine that we appreciate about you. We’ll each start with “What I appreciate about you is …” When we’re finished, you’ve got three choices of what to say: “Thank you,” “Thank you; I agree,” or “Thank you. Would you say that again?”

I’ll record what people say to you and send you the audio file when we’re done, so you can play it for yourself if you’re having a bad day or for your spouse and kids if they fail to appreciate your genius.

For the warm seat, I’ll pick people randomly, rather than go around the circle. As we give feedback, anyone can speak whenever they’re ready. I’d like for us be thoughtful, specific, and genuine in our comments, rather than simply telling someone he or she is doing a good job. I’ll say something to each of you as well, when the spirit moves me.

I’ll also be our timekeeper. When your minute to tell us what you bring to the team is up, I’ll say, “Time.” And then whoever wants to be the first to acknowledge you can begin.

Begin recording and call on someone. Allow and encourage silence as people think about what they want to say to their teammates. Don’t be surprised if people get choked up while they’re giving or receiving this kind of feedback. In fact, hope for it. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be in the room when people hear from their peers how remarkable they are. Even though you need to manage time, be flexible. If someone is saying something particularly meaningful, let him or her speak a bit longer. You’re after effect, not protocol.

Set the bar high early in the exercise by your own example. Choose your words and mean every one of them. The key is for your own comments to people during this exercise to be specific and heartfelt, revealing your emotions and your genuine affection.

Note: Don’t be surprised if the team insists that you take your turn in the warm seat, as well. They almost always do, and you’ll have a deeply personal experience of how profoundly moving this level of intimate, sincere recognition can be.

STEP 4: DEBRIEF.

Rather than poll people for their opinions of the appreciation activity, let the debrief occur informally and face to face. It’s very likely that people will seek you out to comment about it later that day or week: “That was a really great session” or “Thanks for what you said the other day in the meeting.” No need to probe. Just say something like, “You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked it.” Encourage them to do the exercise with their own teams and with their family members. Remember, you are practicing and modeling what you’d like to see happen elsewhere.

Remember, you are practicing and modeling what you’d like to see happen elsewhere.

And if you recorded the session, remember to give people copies of the audio file. People will cherish it. I’ve gotten e-mails and phone calls from family members who told me how excited their spouses or partners were to come home and play it for them.

STEP 5: DO IT AGAIN, ONLY BETTER.

At Fierce Inc., our team does this exercise whenever I sense the time is right. It might be at the completion of a significant, long-term, possibly arduous project. It might be after several new people have joined the team and have worked with us for a while. The point is, you don’t have to do this at regularly scheduled intervals. Just do it.

What About One-on-One Praise and Appreciation?

Ken Blanchard got it right years ago with a simple statement in The One Minute Manager: “Catch people in the act of doing things right.” Praise doesn’t have to come in a group exercise; it’s wonderful one on one, face to face, in the moment. Or pick up the phone, write a note, send an e-mail. And don’t wait for perfection; acknowledge behavior that is heading in a positive direction. Fierce leaders practice this.

Taking It to the Organization

An HR director with whom I recently discussed my view of traditional “performance management systems” counseled me that patience is required, as no organizational culture can move from anonymity to candor overnight. Instead, we should trust that this is an evolutionary process and keep an eye on the goal.

Sadly, patience is not one of my virtues. Given the steep prices we pay every day for anonymity, evolution takes too long! So I don’t recommend waiting for the shift from anonymity to 365 face-to-face feedback to happen organically. Make the decision, provide training, and throw the switch.

It starts with you, of course. You, modeling what you’d like from others. And if you have the decision-making power in your company, add a few more steps to your action plan.

1. In most cases, 365 face-to-face feedback does not replace formal reviews. However, it does allow formal reviews to be far more productive and focused. No surprises. A fierce leader considers performance reviews part of an ongoing, extended conversation, a coaching-based alternative to costly, time-consuming assessments and reams of data that based on results, is not serving us. Certainly, while you’re at it, build candor and humanity (for lack of a better word) into formal reviews. Let those who conduct performance reviews know that the quality and effectiveness of their performance reviews will be noted by those they review.

2. Announce that since the company values honesty, openness, and transparency, anonymous feedback will no longer be provided. And that, given that you understand people’s hesitations about being completely honest with one another, you will provide coaching on how to engage in unabashedly honest conversations that enrich relationships. Let people in the organization know that you believe such conversations are essential in a truly Great Place to Work and that you hold them able to do this.

3. Follow through on this. Provide training. Ideally, begin with senior executives, then branch out. If that’s not possible, start anywhere. Start with your own team, your direct reports. Start with a cross-functional team that has been asked to deliver significant goals to the organization.

Personal Action Plan

The practice of 365 face-to-face feedback shouldn’t stop at the office. A great marriage, a happy family also require something of us: a change in attitude and behavior, specific actions sustained over time. I encourage you, therefore, to use what you’ve learned in this chapter to foster open and honest conversations in your personal life, as well. Start by asking a family member or friend for feedback on how you impact your relationship with him or her—for good or bad. Ask if there’s anything he or she would like you to start doing or stop doing or continue doing. No matter what he or she says, keep listening, without defense. And thank him or her for telling you.

Once, I was giving a keynote speech in Orlando, and a man who had sat quietly through the session caught up with me outside. He had a kind face and was in his late fifties or early sixties. “Um, I’ve never actually told anybody this before,” he said, “but I’m deeply unhappy in my marriage, have been for years. My wife is … well, the only word for it is cruel, not just to me, to everyone. I don’t think I can take it anymore. I think I need to leave.”

I waited.

He continued, “But surely you’re not saying I should just come out and tell my wife of thirty years what I’m thinking, like I just said it to you.”

Gently, quietly. “I am. Yes.”

“Oh, my God.” His face lost color.

“Unless you think telling her you’d like sour cream on your baked potato will do the trick.”

He looked as if he might be sick there and then on the sidewalk.

“You could begin with ‘I love you, but I don’t love our life together.’”

He closed his eyes and groaned.

It is hard to look agony in the eye and not flinch, not blink. But in our personal lives, just as at work, a careful conversation is a failed conversation because it merely postpones the conversation that wants and needs to take place. I gave him my card. “Please let me know how it goes,” I told him. “I mean that.”

About a year later, I got an e-mail from him. He had left his marriage. He had done it with kindness. He was happy in this new phase of his life.

Conclusion

Thankfully, we cut each other a fair amount of slack day to day. This goes for personal relationships, as well. Marriages don’t survive unless we are willing to tolerate imperfections in our partners and recognize that we have a few of our own. And when things happen that trouble us, we talk them through until we are whole again, back on track, which is why an honest, skillful confrontation is a gift, a search for truth, a vein of gold worth mining.

Our most valuable, enduring relationships require that we stay current with one another at work and at home—face to face.

Our most valuable, enduring relationships require that we stay current with one another at work and at home—face to face. While most leaders fulfill their basic job descriptions, including conducting performance reviews, filling out surveys, and listening politely (with gritted teeth) to anonymous feedback, fierce leaders do something more interesting, more real. They engage in meaningful conversations that truly connect.

When our achievements, talents, and positive results are noticed and acknowledged and our missteps are addressed and resolved, we deepen our commitment to bringing the best of ourselves to our work and to our families every day. And this, in turn, translates to stronger relationships and better performance, which translates to success and happiness.

Who deserves your praise? Who deserves an apology? Whose behavior or attitude is causing serious problems? What are you waiting for?