One of the favorite classes I teach is on giving feedback. It’s an art. And it’s a science, whose inner laws were taught me by my friend and mentor Mary Ann Hastings. I keep learning to “paint” with the feedback brush and to refine my understanding of the scientific laws of feedback. Last week I got a great lesson.
My undergraduates and I were practicing coaching, taking it from concept to real-time practice. I and most of them, I believe, feel pretty proud about the positive community we have created. But our purpose is not just to feel positive. It’s to feel good about each other while — and so that – we can grow in leadership skills. One student is not your average undergrad. Instead, he’s about 30, a retired sergeant who served multiple missions in the Middle East. When someone asked about coaching up– to a boss – I invited him to share how it worked in the army.
His first response was that they always hold AAR’s — After Action Reviews – so it’s common to share feedback and continuously learn; the bosses thus get near-instantaneous feedback. I wanted to narrow in. “But what about when you felt like you needed to give a lieutenant feedback in order to help him lead well. What would you say?” He replied, “I’d say, ‘Hey, L.T., can we grab a cup of coffee?” “Okay,” I continued, “and then what would say?” He replied, “I’d say L.T., you really fucked that up.” He went on to say that an LT (lieutenant) might have only been in action for 7 weeks after his schooling, and that he couldn’t afford to lose the respect of his troops. “I learned that the best way to be respected [by my command officer] was to be brutally honest.”
The class got a jolt and a laugh from the profanity, but we all got a lesson that the modern army is not all yes-sir, no-sir, but that it thrives on truth-telling and openness.
This young man has worked his way through PTSD; being a veteran ain’t all roses. But I hope this brief lesson he shared on management also indicates that there are some awesome vets who can contribute immensely to the work we do, as we all try to
Lead with our best self,