Leadership In Action: Giving and Receiving Feedback
Updated: Sep 28, 2018
Helen Nychka, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and a director at Thrive Autism Collaborative. She's a model in giving and receiving feedback.
I worked with Helen in my 30's and 40's at a new autism center in Colorado, now known as Firefly Autism. I was a director and she was our speech pathologist. Back then, the center was it in its infancy, a small organization working with children with the most significant needs, and we were awash in feedback. Parents, staff, educators, neighbors all had opinions about the work we were doing and equally we had the responsibility of making treatment suggestions or delivering information that wasn't always welcomed.
This was my first significant leadership role, and learning the feedback process was a rough ride. I took most feedback personally and was reticent to give it. When I did provide it, like when I needed to talk to a parent about being habitually late picking up his child, or to a staff member about a performance issue, it was mostly indirect and watered-down. Once, out of my own discomfort with other's feelings, I avoided giving our accountant some critically important feedback on his handling of key processes. A senior member of our team whose billing system was compromised as a result of the accountant's errors called me out on my avoidant behavior, opening my eyes to my pattern. Point learned: good leadership requires good feedback skills. This was one of many lessons that drove me to look for exemplary leadership models to emulate. Helen was one of my models.
Moment of Clarity
An experienced clinician, Helen was and is a natural leader who doesn't mince words. One day, Helen arrived at the Center at 7am for a executive team meeting. As soon as I saw here, my heart sank. I had forgotten to tell her the meeting was cancelled. Knowing she had driven about 90 minutes from her home in Boulder to our site in south Denver, I took a breath and let her know there was no meeting and I had failed to call her. What happened next was so starling: Rather than criticizing me, she just looked at me, exhaled deeply and said, "Oh Nancy, I need to know if a meeting is cancelled. I have to juggle a lot to get here." And that was it. We went on to discuss the next thing. It was my first insight into what direct and clear feedback looked like, and how efficient it could be. I contrast that with a lot of other, harsher feedback I received in those years, and while all were valuable, the direct and calm examples like Helen's are the ones that propelled lasting changes in my behavior.
The counterpart to giving feedback is receiving it. Inspiring leaders are skillful at both parts and welcome feedback in all forms as a path to learning and evolving. As good as she is at giving feedback, Helen also models the behavior that Crafted Leadership suggests for receiving feedback: remain open and curious and look for the grain of truth. What I observed of Helen over many years is how, in response to feedback from a parent, co-worker, or a child, she will look directly at the person with a steady gaze, and ask questions, like "help me understand what you need" and "please help me see what behaviors you see in me that concern you." This is the kind of response that creates the space for others to share honestly, builds trust and encourages the other person to take responsibility for distinguishing between their facts and their stories.
Grow With Us
At Crafted Leadership, we think it's valuable to have real-life examples of leaders like Helen who model behaviors from the Architecture of Inspiring Leaders to create fields of trust and encourage positive behavior changes in others.
You can download our recommended steps for giving and receiving feedback here.
If YOU have stories of inspiring leadership in action, we’d love to hear them! Email Nancy at email@example.com.