Intense feedback

Dr Paul Gentle

I was fortunate enough to flip roles last month, and become a participant on a leadership development programme. In the first five minutes, our group of 20 was told in no uncertain terms to expect a week which would be “feedback-intensive”. The journey we were embarking on would take us to uncomfortable places.

Applying sound principles of instructional design, the programme took us through a rich range of experiences, starting with a simulation. We spent a day running a well-conceived manufacturing company at a turning-point in its strategic direction. Although we needed to take some substantive business decisions, the learning was entirely about our behaviours. How we established and developed working relationships, how we attended to values and culture in the part of the company we ran, and how effective others perceived our leadership to be – this was the stuff of the feedback the programme director had talked about.

The quality of this feedback was phenomenal. It was as far removed as it’s possible to be from a cursory slot of constructive criticism sandwiched between layers of appreciation.

First, we spent half an hour completing an iPad questionnaire ahead of an afternoon’s discussion on our team’s performance. Then we were set what was for me the most challenging task of the week – writing feedback sheets on each of the other six people in my team. Each one had to have three or four examples of behaviour or language in specific situations. What was more, in every case we had to describe the perceived impact for each example on ourselves or on others.

The next day was entirely spent processing this feedback in depth. It culminated in a twenty-minute feedback round for each individual, for which we were given a digital recorder for us to take away what our peers gave us. After hearing six pieces of individual feedback, our group facilitator drew on several pages of observation notes to give us her views on the leadership impact we’d made, with some very sharply-observed points (How had she even seen when I said that? I never even knew she was there!). This was powerful learning, and led to intense thinking on how we handle feedback on the Leadership Foundation’s programmes.

While writing this blog, I felt impelled to go to my digital recorder and remind myself, with some trepidation, of the feedback day. I switched it on, and was relieved, and transported back to the flow I experienced in the programme. I heard one of my colleagues telling me that the first thing I’d done was to “spark an energy to start”. I was ready to listen to what was to come.

Dr Paul Gentle is Director of Programmes