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Involved Presence and Communicating Support: How an Effective Leader Builds the Confidence of Others

An effective leader will communicate support for someone he or she is managing

This is the second “deep dive” article to come out of my blog post “Developing Leadership Potential: The Essential Role of the Manager“. Here we look at the importance of the effective leader’s active involvement in developing an individual who wants to grow as a leader, as well as the manager’s communication of support of that individual.

Self-esteem is an important ingredient for effective leadership. Managers help nurture that self-esteem in the developing leader through their everyday actions. As those with less experience begin “trying on” the behaviors of leadership, mistakes will be made and lessons learned. And, confidence will ebb and flow accordingly. When a leader expresses confidence in a developing leader, especially after a failure, it renews self-assurance and helps the individual to pick themselves up and try again. Sam Walton, founder of Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart once said, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish(1).”

Involved Presence

Effective leaders recognize that their actions speak louder than words. The leader who is interested and involved in the growth of their team members demonstrates that interest by being present when needed. This “involved presence” (the term I coined) encompasses helping to handle tough issues and providing psychological support. An example of addressing an issue is intervening with a customer, on behalf of a team member, to run interference. In one story I heard about psychological support, a team leader described being criticized by a customer and becoming depressed. The manager intervened, but was careful not to criticize the team leader when explaining the situation to the customer. He encouraged the team leader to concentrate on correction and future prevention, leaving the team member feeling reassured.

It is sad to say, but I often hear stories of team members “thrown under the bus” by a poor manager attempting to placate a customer or another manager. The consequence of being supported is a feeling of security and improved confidence (2).

Involved presence in leadership development also includes making oneself accessible and providing guidance. These are key actions of the effective leader who recognizes the importance of devoting time to developing leadership skills in the people that work for him/her.

Communication of Support

Communication of support is a specific type of managerial communication that takes several forms: recognizing achievements, communicating success, expressing confidence, or providing reinforcing messages (3).

Recognizing achievements refers to acknowledging an accomplishment either publicly or privately. So often, we forget to “catch someone doing something right”. However, it is important to note that the global manager must be sensitive to cultural differences in recognition. For example, in North America or Northern Europe, recognizing individuals is acceptable. In Asia, recognizing the group or team is acceptable.

Going a step further, an effective leader looks for ways of communicating successes to specific people in the company. In the case of an individual who may be ready to move to another team or level within the company, the supportive manager points out the individual’s strengths to other departments or colleagues and expresses confidence in the individual’s competency. This can include an article in an internal newsletter, an email to the next level of management, or a verbal call-out at a town hall meeting.

Reinforcing messages express support for an individual assigned to a project or a specific role. Typically, when an effective leader expresses confidence in an individual in a leadership role, it carries weight with the people on the team, others in the company, or customers. I recently interviewed a female executive whose customers were in the male-dominated coal industry. She commented that her boss would state in customer meetings, “If Mary doesn’t agree to it, we’re not doing it”. This signaled a clear message of support and confidence in Mary. She and her boss had a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. In fact, Mary was eventually promoted to CEO. Having a supportive leader to guide her as she progressed made a difference.

Are You Working on Your Legacy?

We have discussed two behaviors in this article, involved presence and communication of support. These behaviors require thoughtfulness, empathy, and the realization that supporting and developing others is one of the most important activities of an effective leader. Many leaders have told me that the true legacy of their life’s work is the leadership talent they have fostered to ensure the future of the organization. Are you working on your legacy?

¹Walton, Sam, with John Huey (1994). Made in America: My Story. New York: Bantam Books.

²Cantarutti, T.L. (2005) Leadership Development Support Through a Cross-Cultural Lens. Lisle, Ill: Benedictine University Press.

³Cantarutti, T.L. Ibid.

Tracey Cantarutti, PhD, is the founder of TLC Leadership Options, Inc., an Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Consultancy. She can be reached at TLC@TLCLeadershipOptions.com.

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The Feedback Fallacy: A Rebuttal

Some of you may have noticed Harvard Business Review’s cover story in the March-April 2019 issue, entitled, “The Feedback Fallacy,” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. This headline certainly captures our attention, which I’m sure was the point.

Considering my recent blog, “Feedback is a Gift,” I felt I should comment on the HBR article.

First of all, I know firsthand from teaching graduate students and coaching clients across many industries and continents, that many managers want to learn how best to give feedback that is objective, meaningful, and actionable, and is delivered in a way that boosts confidence and improves performance.

As Steve Hunt points out in his very excellent response to the HBR article here, not only are there hundreds of studies looking at the impact of feedback on performance, “the overwhelming consensus is feedback improves performance if it is delivered the right way in the right conditions”. That is the reason that leadership development professionals and experts such as David Bradford, Senior Lecturer in Leadership at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, study, lecture, and write about how to deliver feedback that creates high performance.

Secondly, the authors’ description of competencies – such as strategic thinking or political savvy – as “abstract” ideas and therefore not able to be assessed by others is simply wrong. A good competency model breaks these competencies into specific skills. For example, a company’s competency model might describe strategic thinking as the ability to view the company at both a macro and micro level; to address change; to have a vision of the future; and to inspire others.

Behaviors can be observed and assessed by an experienced individual, and most certainly it is possible for us to learn from others’ inputs and change our behaviors in the future. For example, a coaching client I worked with was asked to describe how digitalization would impact his business in 10 years. Since he spent his time putting out daily fires, he had no answer. We determined that he needed to schedule time on his calendar to read up on industry trends, talk to experts and anticipate the likely changes in his business. Once he communicated a vision of change, his team launched an exploration of new products and partnerships to be prepared.

Thirdly, despite the attention-getting headline, when they say, “we learn most when someone else pays attention to what’s working within us and asks us to cultivate it intelligently”, it seems that the authors believe in feedback as long as it’s based on understanding only what we do well. It’s true that feedback should address what we do well. By the same token, using a tactful approach such as, “I really found it effective when you did this (something done well)” then adding, “Next time why don’t you try this (presenting a new idea or technique for something to do better or differently).” This brings us back to the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to deliver feedback. Request a free copy of “The Feedback Formula: 6 Steps for Delivering Honest, Effective Feedback” here.

Finally, when the authors of the HBR article present the idea of expressing our own reaction or feelings to something – like in a statement “I’m struggling to understand your plan” – vs. absolute statements – like “You lack strategic thinking” – this is no different than the technique David Bradford presents to a Stanford audience and excerpted here. As Steve Hunt points out, the authors present techniques for effective feedback as new insight rather than as established and accepted practices.

In conclusion, feedback is not a fallacy. There is a lot of research establishing its value and there are effective techniques for delivering it to improve performance. Great leaders take the time to observe and provide thoughtful feedback to develop future leaders.

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Feedback is a Gift: How to Give Appropriately

In last month’s blog, we reviewed 5 dimensions of global manager behavior that are essential to effectively supporting the leadership development needs of team members. This month we take a deeper dive on one of those dimensions: Giving developmental feedback.

Several surveys have shown that people want feedback and believe it is valuable. In fact, those under the age of 30 want it regularly: weekly, if not daily. More than that, giving feedback may be the key to retention of millennials, who are now 1/3 of the workforce and by 2020 will comprise nearly half.

According to a 2016 Clutch HR survey, “40% of millennials do not consider themselves fulfilled at work”, which is nearly 2 times greater than Gen-X employees and almost 4 times greater than Baby-Boomers”(1). Feeling fulfilled is a key to retaining employees and as it turns out, regular feedback increases millennial fulfillment:

  • “Of the millennials whose managers do provide accurate and consistent feedback, 72% find their job fulfilling.
  • Of the millennials whose managers do not provide accurate and consistent feedback, only 38% find their job fulfilling”(2).

Let’s consider how to give feedback that keeps employees engaged. When you are responsible for the development of others, it requires making a commitment to spend the time and make this a significant part of your responsibilities. Feedback that is effective for leadership development is specific, behavior-based and supportive.

  1. You must be prepared to be specific. When I was first responsible for a team of high potential young leaders, the immensity of the responsibility hit me. In order to provide good feedback, I would have to observe everyone in action to see or hear for myself what was done well and what could be improved. It is not effective feedback to say, “good job!”, nor does it suffice to get only input from others.
  2. Focus on what you have observed, not inferred: effective feedback focuses on a behavior, (“I noticed that you have been arriving late for our early morning meetings”) not the person, or your idea of their issue or intention (“you must have trouble getting up in the morning” or “you lack respect for me and your colleagues”). Sticking to the facts will mitigate emotional reactions, yours and theirs.
  3. Communicate support and caring: Ideally you have a trusting relationship with the person receiving the feedback. If they know you come from a place of caring and that you are supportive of their career goals, the feedback will be received well and will create dialogue.

Also, remember that feedback is not advice. It is much more effective to explore alternatives and let the recipient decide what action to take, than to impose your ideas on them. Ask the individual to come up with a recommendation of how to practice a new behavior. And finally, keep in mind that asking “why” something was done in the wrong tone can provoke defensiveness. It is better to ask what or how something was done.

Team members of all ages want feedback. They just want to know it comes from a supportive place and is objective and specific. Let your team members know you care.

(1)(2)Clutch Survey, Engage Millennial Employees with Feedback and Evaluation, December 2016.

Tracey Cantarutti, PhD, is the founder of TLC Leadership Options, Inc., an Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Consultancy. She can be reached at tlc@tlcleadershipoptions.com.

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Developing Leadership Potential: The Essential Role of the Manager

Developing effective leaders in any organization can be challenging. And yet, this is the surest way to ensure the long-term success of a business or other institution. Companies pour thousands of dollars into internal learning centers or training programs, but lasting impact from such programs is elusive. Mentors and Executive Coaches have been acknowledged to have a positive effect, although the latter is expensive and, while effective individually, lacks broad impact.

Research at the Center for Creative Leadership shows that the success of leadership development programs hinges on the active participation of the developing leader’s manager. To quote a white paper: “Self-awareness, leadership capability, and leadership effectiveness were all significantly improved when bosses are involved and supportive”(1). I conducted a cross-cultural exploratory study in 2004 (2) and concluded that the most important organizational factor in the development of the leader is having their manager’s active involvement.

If you are a manager who aspires to become an executive or even a CEO, understanding how to effectively support the development of your global team members is critical. Following is a description of the dimensions of supportive manager behavior that cross cultural boundaries.

5 dimensions of Global Manager Behavior Essential to the Success of Leadership Development Programs

The study covered the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America and revealed the five dimensions of supportive behavior.

  • Active Involvement in the Process – The supportive manager is “there when you need him/ her,” to paraphrase one of the interviewees. Such a manager is there to help handle issues as they arise, offers psychological support, and provides guidance when challenges go beyond the capabilities of the developing leader. It also refers to standing behind a decision or direction taken by the developing leader or offering “air cover” when there is an issue. This involvement on the part of the manager is a confidence-builder for the employee.
  • Communication of Support – The effective manager will recognize the importance of communicating his/ her support of the developing individual. This specific kind of communication takes several forms, including recognizing achievement (either publicly or privately); communicating successes of team members; communicating reinforcing messages regarding the value and competence of the developing individual; and expressing confidence.
  • Building Relationships – Supportive managers engage in relationship building at the individual and group level. Seeking personal knowledge of each developing team member and interacting with them on a regular basis creates opportunities for feedback and coaching and a better understanding of individual growth needs. The manager also maintains an internal network consisting of peers, superiors, and others that facilitate opportunities for developmental encounters or new job assignments for team members.
  • Offering Feedback – Feedback on performance or behaviors is highly appreciated in all regions, although the delivery style may differ. This skill includes giving positive reinforcement, constructive criticism when needed, and an assessment of the development needs of the individual.
  • Providing Opportunities for Development – A supportive manager actively provides challenging opportunities that allow the individual to practice new skills and behaviors. These could be in-department or elsewhere in the company. The key is that the manager has a deep understanding of individual development needs and can leverage the talent management system or personal relationships to arrange for stretch assignments, special projects, task force assignments, or the like.

Communicating these responsibilities to managers across the organization and encouraging or even incentivizing their use will multiply the impact on leadership development overall.

(1) Young, S., Champion, H., Raper, M., & Braddy, P. (2017). Adding More Fuel to the Fire: How Bosses Can Make or Break Leadership Development Programs. White Paper, Center for Creative Leadership.

(2) Cantarutti, T. L., (2005). Leadership Development Support Through a Cross-Cultural Lens. Lisle, IL: Benedictine University Press.

Tracey Cantarutti, PhD, is the founder of TLC Leadership Options, Inc., an Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Consultancy. She can be reached at tlc@tlcleadershipoptions.com.