3 Reasons Leaders Should Never Fix Their People

Daniel leads a team of twenty research scientist/leaders.

In preparing to work with the team at their annual leadership conference, I spoke to Joanne, one of Daniel’s direct reports.  Joanne brought me up to speed with the team, their group dynamics, and the work that they do.

One of the things Joanne shared was:

One thing you should know that Daniel is a terrific leader.  However, he has a one particular sensitivity you should be aware of.  We’ve had outside people come in to work with us in the past and trigger this sensitivity and it didn’t go well.

I was intrigued.  I asked her to continue.

When working with our team, don’t say “we have a problem”.  Daniel gets very upset when people look at the team as being broken and in need of fixing.  If you want to address issues of the team, frame them in the context of betterment.  Talk about how we can improve.

It turns out that Joanne and Daniel are not mere wordsmiths and spin doctors.  Daniel’s “sensitivity” is well-justified.  He intuitively understood that how we address a topic can be as important as the topic itself.

There are three significant reasons to position feedback from the perspective of improvement instead of repair.

1. It shows that you value them.  

One of the greatest needs people have is the need to feel valued.  Being valued is the basis for building trust and effective working relationships.  Demonstrating value shows that you care about their humanity.  If you start from a clinical place of “fixing the problem”, people may feel you’re treating them like a machine part to be tinkered with.

2.  People are open to hearing what you have to say.

It’s amazing to see how quickly people can put up walls when their defenses get triggered. Let’s be honest, no one is excited to hear they are failing.  Rather than energizing people, pointing out their flaws and brokenness is most likely to send people into either a seething pool of anger or a puddle of shame.  Either way, it’s demoralizing and saps energy: the energy necessary to move forward and make things better.

3.  People gain greater confidence in their own abilities.

When addressing issues from the point of view of betterment, it normalizes the experience of being a “work in progress”.  No one is perfect.   Framing your feedback as “this is how you can get better” sends an inherent message that you believe in their ability to grow.  If you believe in them, they should believe in themselves as well.

When you choose “betterment” instead of “brokenness”, you profoundly change the very nature of feedback. It goes from from being a value judgment pronouncement from on high to an active, dynamic conversation that supports both the person and the process.

What other benefits does framing feedback as improvement provide?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 

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