One of the battles being fought in the war on Covid-19 is that within the media. ‘Too negative’ cry some writers about the reporting of our national response, while others have reacted - “truth about the virus is better for us than hope” (Daniel Finkelstein, Times, 22 April). Undoubtedly there are truths that we need to hear and learn from, some of which will be unwanted or inconvenient, but in order to move forward many of us also need to be energised by a sense of hope. This is not true for everyone, but in general, positive thinking helps to drives us on, so it’s about getting the balance right. This debate made me think about the challenge we face as leaders - how to find the right balance between providing challenge and support for our team members?
Challenge is essential to our development, otherwise we languor in the comfort zone. Indeed, challenging feedback - delivered effectively by a leader can be transformational – it builds self-awareness and creates a sense of ownership for personal change. This is not to say that delivering motivational feedback is easy; people have different appetites for challenge and this needs to be acknowledged. Some want to build trust and explore issues rather than be shocked into action, whereas others will respond to a more direct approach. The pace and tone of the challenge will influence how well it lands, so thinking through how best to deliver feedback to a particular individual will pay off. It is also helpful to recognise that a challenge is not necessarily a truth. In human relations there is rarely a single truth, instead there are different perspectives that can be explored so that the truth emerges through the relationship. It may therefore be helpful to think of a developmental challenge as an observation that should be discussed, so that your team member is fully engaged in the process of understanding the feedback and considering its implications.
This is where the need for support kicks-in. Throwing feedback out like hand-grenades is unlikely to work but a leader who is sincere in their intent to develop others will follow through on their observations. This need not be complex or time consuming but may involve discussion, consolidation, monitoring and plugging-in occasional interventions when they are needed.
Coaches too are sensitive to the fact that challenge has to be delivered in an environment and overall process which is designed to be completely supportive. One of the key goals of coaching is to help clients see that they have options in dealing with any situation and instil the belief that they can find the best solution for them.