When I took over the responsibility to lead the talented team (my first real test of being the leader of the team in my career), I thought I was prepared. At least I had checked a few boxes to get ready.
But when the rubber hit the road, I realised the number of areas I needed to work on just to be functional. The realisation of the demands of the role and where I was with my performance made it clear that I needed to buckle up.
The realisation wasn’t epiphanic. I underwent a series of conversations with my boss about what was lacking. About what I needed to be doing differently. The feedback was clear, direct and often brutal. And I am so glad that it was. If that feedback during those months was delivered any other way, it wouldn’t have registered.
Intensity of feedback
It matters how intense the feedback is, in order to expedite the necessary action. And sometimes it needs to be brutal in its framing. The intensity communicates how far off the work is, from where it needs to be. There’s no more efficient a way to communicate this than picking intense words.
In fact, in my career I have learned the most when the feedback started to the tune of “This is very bad”, followed by a detailed breakdown of why the work was bad. That start, the verbiage of “This is very bad” got me to focus and pay attention to the details that followed. It set the tone for the seriousness with which I had to take the rest of the feedback.
Over the years, having been on the other side I have realised one thing – It’s extremely discomforting to deliver feedback brutally too. It doesn’t come naturally to people. You don’t always know for sure how the recipient will take it. But that’s where great leaders stand out – they do it anyway.
Brutal feedback builds a culture of honesty and transparency. If it’s bad, it’s bad. There should be no pressure to put it any other way. Such direct feedback saves time, and helps bring people on to the same page faster. It improves the quality of the work faster too. The only downside is that it is uncomfortable in the beginning for both sides – the person giving the feedback, and the one taking it. But one of them has to take the plunge.
I wouldn’t be half the leader I am today if not for the countless direct discussions I had dissecting my performance to the bits, scrutinising every last detail of how I operated and what I had to improve. It was a gift that keeps on giving to this very day.
In your career it will be rare to meet people who have overcome the awkwardness of delivering brutal feedback, but if you do meet one, make sure you ask them: “Hey, I’d love to improve my work but I have never had anyone tell me how much it sucks. Can you help me find out?”