Early in my career I ran a database, and I trained a lot of people how to use it. Being new to the database, the people I trained often made little mistakes. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or seem overly critical, so I didn’t say anything. Instead, I’d just fix the mistakes when I was back in my office. But as I trained more people, I had more mistakes to fix. Eventually I realized that my desire not to hurt anyone’s feelings was completely ridiculous and was actually harming the overall purpose of the database—to keep accurate data! The system had to change, which meant that I had to go back to those people I had trained and give them some long-overdue adjusting feedback.

I knew that the only way to correct the mess I’d gotten myself into was to own my part of it. I started each conversation by apologizing for not being as clear and honest as I should have been in their initial training, and for not coming to them sooner. I was really nervous, but the people I had to retrain were incredibly gracious. I still think about how differently this would have gone if I hadn’t owned up and apologized for my (very large) part in creating the broken system.

Do you have someone on your team who needs some long-overdue adjusting feedback from you, but you don’t know how to bring it up because you’ve let it slide for so long? There is incredible power in starting with an apology for not bringing it up sooner. This is part of being vulnerable as a leader, and part of why we believe that the greatest leaders are willing to be vulnerable. 

This week I want to challenge you to think about these things:

  1. Who needs some long-overdue feedback from you to help them grow?
  2. How will giving them that feedback help your team as a whole?
  3. How will that impact the overarching goals of your team?
  4. How will sharing that difficult feedback impact your growth as a leader?

Apologizing for your part in someone’s dysfunction is hard, and it is powerful. It can be just what is needed to start a conversation that might lead to some significant change. 

One last thought before I end this post—people tend to receive adjusting feedback most readily when it’s not the only kind of feedback they get from you. Remember the 5-to-1 ratio of positive to adjusting feedback we recommend? Once you give that overdue adjusting feedback, make a point to give specific, positive feedback as well, especially as you see the person’s behavior changing. The combination of apologizing for withholding important adjusting feedback coupled with the 5-to-1 ratio can have a significant positive impact on your team. And who doesn’t want that?

Lead well this week,

Image by Sarebear:). Used under CC by 2.0 license.