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The One Key to Effective Feedback You May Be Overlooking

Let’s face it: Ted Lasso is the perfect coach. In Apple TV’s award-winning show Ted Lasso, football coach Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, genuinely cares about each of his team members, both on and off the field. He constantly strives for improvement while remaining supportive, and his feedback is usually accompanied by a surprisingly on-point cultural reference. However, the crux of the conflict in the show – at least at the outset – revolves around one thing:

Ted Lasso does not know how to coach soccer.

Ted doesn’t know how the game is played, or what success looks like beyond eventually scoring a goal. As a result, he’s initially unable to set expectations for his players; season one features a steep learning curve and (spoiler alert) a lot of lost games.

We’ve previously discussed four best (very Lasso-esque) practices for earning the right to coach and give feedback. In brief, they are:

  • Ask questions.
  • Demonstrate understanding.
  • Show your own vulnerability.
  • Make it personal.

These all revolve around building a strong, trusting relationship with an employee or direct report that allows feedback to be truly heard, accepted – and most importantly, implemented. However, all the mutual respect in the world doesn’t help if you find yourself giving feedback on a missed mark the employee didn’t even know they were supposed to meet. In Ted’s case, this happens because he doesn’t know what success looks like. However, in business, it often happens when a leader understands the definition of success, but fails to communicate it. All to say: when delegating, setting clear expectations at the outset makes giving feedback easier on the back end.

This is not a groundbreaking statement. In fact, I hope your response to the above statement is, “of course.” Yet so many leaders make giving feedback hard on themselves by assuming that expectations are understood and not explicitly clarifying them.

For example, I am currently working with a leader we’ll call Amira, who became frustrated with an employee (let’s call her Meredith) who did not make good use of their time together in one-on-one check-ins. Amira was struggling with how to approach Meredith about the issue. After investigation, I learned that employees are told the meeting is “for them” and they can talk about whatever they would like. The implication – from Amira’s perspective – was that direct reports could use the time as an open forum to raise questions and work through current challenges, but Meredith was frustrating her by using the meeting to chit-chat rather than engage in business discussion.

“How do I tell Meredith we need to be productive with our time together without offending her?” Amira asked me. “I don’t want her to think I don’t want to hear about her weekend, it’s just that shouldn’t be the only topic in our meetings. I want to add value for her.”

In this example, Amira delegated the meeting agenda to Meredith – or so she thought – but provided unclear expectations that were causing Meredith to miss the mark. She was given ambiguous expectations, but in reality, Amira had something more specific in mind. Others on the team were able to figure that out without direction, but Meredith did not.

“Does Meredith know that you expect her to discuss business?” I asked.

“She knows,” Amira quickly retorted.

“It doesn’t seem like she knows,” I suggested, “even if you think she should know. What’s the harm in telling her?”

Amira agreed that there was no harm, and it was a simple thing to do. “Maybe,” she added, “I can revisit the expectations with everyone, to reinforce all the different ways they can use me as a resource and improve how they utilize time in those meetings. Perhaps everyone could elevate their game.”

When delegating, setting explicit expectations at the outset makes giving feedback easier on the back end. Leaders can eliminate many performance issues if they learn to become crystal-clear on what success looks like – whether that’s the outcome of a meeting, a project deliverable, a soccer game, or anything in between.

What are your best practices for giving effective feedback? Share with us in the comments below!

Or: looking to develop your leader-as-coach skills? We’d love to help.

About Eileen Linnabery

Eileen’s passion for utilizing psychological principles to enhance the human capital competitive advantage of organizations brought her to Vantage in 2014. She began her career building and operating assessment centers for development and selection, and has worked to assess and develop leaders in a variety of industries such as pharmaceuticals, energy, oil and gas, entertainment, and banking. She enjoys focusing on helping leaders transition from being stellar individual contributors to leading others. Her goal is to assist individuals in developing a better understanding of themselves as leaders, and to help them reframe how they approach their work.

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