Feedback Season

Feedback Season

For many organisations including mine, it’s “year end” at 30 June, meaning lots of work to close out financial performance measures and work out how well we did as humans. Assessments are made against goals – how did you get away with that for an objective?! – and we try as best as we can to assess behaviours on leadership and teaming for the year just past.

It’s serious business. Countless research and anecdotes tell us people are more likely to leave their workplace because of their boss, not the work, or even the rewards. Leadership has a massive impact on performance, wellbeing, and the one measure most precious to me, happiness.

I don’t recall anyone saying to me – hate work, the boss is a prick, but I’m as happy as can be. Of course, happiness must just be my thing and satisfaction, professional reward, or contentment might be better descriptors for you. In fact I’ve had my happiness both challenged (it’s potentially superficial) – and reaffirmed (deeper happiness), at the same time by some recent reading on Stoicism. Stoicism considers that happiness can be found through virtue, the four main types of which are wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.

Using the Stoics virtues can guide us in feedback.

I think if we could try to give feedback that followed these Stoic principles, it would be a fairly good start for all of us. We could try giving feedback that is:

  • Given in the exercise of good judgment, experience, as a wise person would do – wisdom. Serious feedback needs serious work and is not for the faint-hearted and requires experience. It’s grown up’s work.
  • Fair and equitable according to the receiver’s experience – progressive justice. The platinum rule – treating others as they wish to be treated, not just how you think you might like to be treated.
  • Given honestly and accurately, regardless of the giver’s feeling – courage. Buckle up, this isn’t easy and it takes courage to do it, and do it right. That’s not just “telling the truth” as they can sound blunt, uncaring or abrupt.
  • Given with a sense of reason, balanced against the receiver’s overall performance and the team’s too – moderated. Moderated feedback is kind, generous and fair all at once.

Of course all is this is about supporting the giver. The receiver needs to be equally as prepared, and a wise receiver of feedback will be noticing the care and attention of the giver and playing their part – like an encouraging, nodding member of an audience – to encourage and help the giver too.

Go for it!

Stephen

ps Stoicism developed in the 3rd Century BCE and flourished in the Roman Empire

10th decade

10th decade

Aunty Rewa was born in October 1906 in the gold mining town of Waihi on the southern end of the Coromandel. Her parents William and Letitia, both Pākehā, had a Māori nanny and asked her to name the new baby. And Rewa entered the family.

When my mother was born she was named after Aunty Rewa and thanks to the original Koha and longevity, 116 years later the name still lives on in our family. I don’t know anything of the Nanny but I do know that being given the opportunity to name a new-born and carrying that through another generation are both special events and show insight that make fascinate me. Gifting a name is indeed special, a true koha.

Of course I’m biased, but Mum is pretty special and moving another year into her tenth decade this month, celebrated yesterday with a small family lunch in Ōtautahi Christchurch, was a lovely family occasion.

Bottled Peaches!” declared the Airport security woman on the way home – actually apricots – but I didn’t feel like splitting hairs. Mum’s special creation and this jar is from her 69th annual bottling session of Otago apricots, earlier this year, never having missed making them each year since 1952 or 3.

A birthday should be about gifting and I’m pretty fortunate to have come away with this little number.

But the true gift is time – with Mum especially – and Mum still providing for us kids all these years later.

Very blessed.

Happy birthday Mum!

Stephen

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Coming to the end of The Obstacle is the Way I was surprised when the author announced that I was now a philosopher in Stoicism. Although the title of the book is perhaps an obvious clue as to what follows, I hadn’t framed my approach this way. But I found much of the book confirmatory of the usefulness of the concepts of stoicism – especially in a world of disruption (i.e. always!).

The challenging client? Covid anxiety? A war? The intractable work issue? Passive behaviour that feels aggressive? Too many life admins outstanding? All of the above all at once? I try to monitor and notice my own reactions to life’s obstacles – does my heart rate increase, am I irritable, do I start doing detailed work and planning? To notice is to be present in the here and now.

I remember many moons ago working in the Auckland Central police watchhouse – where people who had been arrested were “processed” – until they were bailed or taken to court. As you might imagine, not all customers were particularly happy – many drunk, aggressive and abusive. But you had to search, photograph and fingerprint them, whether they liked it or not. In some respects, achieving the outcomes required behaviour that was the antithesis of the macho, forceful imagine of a uniform cop tackling an alcohol-infused melee. It required the ability to depersonalise the anger directed at you. It’s surprisingly difficult to fingerprint someone – hold their fingers over an inkpad, and roll each finger on the paper – all ten of them – if they don’t want it! I must have achieved a modicum of success as the senior sergeant asked me to stay on for a second six month tour because he said, I had the temperament. I declined, patrols were far more exciting.

But it must have been part of my journey of stoicism, which has really come to the fore these last couple of years, although I’ve never really framed it for myself that way. Perception, Action and Will make up the three disciplines of this book and underpinning it is turning every obstacle into an advantage. In business we might say “turning lemon into lemonade”, or “pivoting now”, but what we’re doing is turning the challenge, the obstacle or disadvantage into an opportunity.

Put another way, declining to be a victim despite the circumstances of apparent unfairness, avoiding catastrophising a situation – living in the present – the book says that unfortunately “We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, whats “behind” this or that..”. Actually most of the time when something isn’t going our way, the person, or people that might be the perceived cause, are more than likely not particularly interested in us. Sad, but good too! It can put perspective into our lives.

Been “disrespected” at work? Who hasn’t been? (who hasn’t done it too?). Was the other person acting with intention? Possibly, but more than likely it was just a moment. So don’t worry. Feed off what they said and come back more powerful appearing more considered and patient as a result.

It’s a perfect day for stoicism. Rain is here after what feels like months of fine weather (unconscious bias of course – there’s been some!), and it’s got that cosy, rain on the roof feeling.

An opportunity to catch up on life admin, and even restart a blog!

Stephen

Headline Photograph: Stonehenge from a visit in 2015. The rocks were quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.

It’s in your head

It’s in your head

I’ve been grappling a bit over the last couple of years with resilience – the concepts more than the actual thing (I think!). People talk of building it up, focussing on your wellbeing to make sure you are resilient, especially during this Covid era when uncertainty about work, health, travel, whanau is ever present. It’ll be coming up four years soon since I saw my eldest son, now settled in Ireland with children of his own, one I’ve not seen in person. There are thousands of similar, and far more challenging situations for many Kiwis. I’m thinking especially those who have lost their employment or had their earnings restricted from business, or who haven’t been able to say farewell to loved ones who have died. It’s tough. And resilience is needed.

I was out at my little piece of paradise this long Waitangi weekend, doing some cleaning up, after a big clean up – moving bits of old metal, some electric power line fittings – trees in pots that had fallen over and so on. I’ve been very cautious – one of my legs is not what it used to be and I’ve been looking after my resilience by protecting it, having others to do the hard graft, leaving me for such strenuous activities as watering and fetching cold drinks from the fridge in the container (should you leave it on? – I hope it’s alright!).

Something switched – maybe I suddenly reached a tipping point and got tougher, but I grabbed all the old metal, electrical fittings and some bits of timber and lugged them up the hill to the bin. Cripes it felt good. Then I did it again. Then I moved the plants back upright. Then I attacked the door to the bore shed that’s been jamming – fixed that.

I’m certain it wasn’t all in my head, I have been weaker, but it had got in my head and now it’s out and I’m free and strong to do what I can. Well that’s what it feels like – probably won’t make the Olympic team quite yet, but you get the drift!

Mount Taranaki

In The Mental Toughness Handbook by Damon Zahariades he separates resilience from mental toughness. He says Resilience:

“is the ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications. It’s the ability to adapt. For example, suppose you leave your home at a normal time en route to your workplace. Unfortunately, you run into expectedly heavy traffic on the freeway. This setback is sure to make you late for a meeting scheduled that morning.
A resilient person might grit his teeth and curse under his breath, but he’d ultimately adapt to this circumstance. He might seek a different route to his workplace, using his phone’s GPS feature. Or he may call his office and reschedule the meeting. Or he might compose an explanation for his tardiness that allows him to avoid others’ disapproval.

Mental toughness is a mindset. It not only reflects our ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications, but also demonstrates a positive outlook during the experience. It’s not just the ability to handle stressful situations. It reflects how we handle them. For example, a mentally tough person caught in unexpectedly heavy traffic might take the opportunity to listen to an inspiring audiobook. In fact, she might be pleased with her circumstance because it gives her the opportunity.”

Obviously there’s more to it in the book than I can relay here, but think about the times when things go wrong – do you see it as an opportunity? Or do you try and make sure the tracks are covered?

I’m not advocating pulling yourself up by the bootstrings necessarily but there is something to be said for thinking of the opportunity. But it’s tough. Mentally tough, but it might just be in your head as to which way you choose.

Resilience vs Mental Toughness. Subtly different.

Stephen