Watering The Flowers: A Feedback Primer For Leaders

Feedback is an art that can be learned and deserves our attention. Even at its best, feedback can create anxiety for everyone involved. At its worst, it can damage relationships if handled poorly or avoided out of fear.

Regardless of how daunting it may be, leaders are expected to give feedback to direct reports. Business demands it and research shows it is the most effective tool for managing performance and improving employee engagement. As a clinical psychologist, I go one step further: Feedback is the best tool for managing relationships, period.

Unfortunately, few leaders receive training in how to give and receive feedback well, so they plod along, unaware of how their personal experiences influence their ability and willingness to engage.

Before we can talk about suggestions for how to make feedback more effective, these are the foundational elements needed to create success.

1. Self-Awareness: Effective leaders spend time reflecting on their own personal experiences with feedback. They know what has been helpful to them and what has not. This awareness is essential to approaching feedback with empathy. Never forget there is a human being on the receiving end of your comments.

2. Platinum Rule (Not Golden Rule): Self-awareness helps you understand what you need or want, but that may be very different from what someone else needs or wants. The Platinum Rule tells us to treat others the way they want to be treated, rather than the way you would want.

3. Strong Relationships: There is no excuse for not establishing a great rapport with your direct reports and colleagues. Without the foundation of a good working relationship, feedback can be hard to interpret and your motivations may be questioned. Trust and respect allow feedback to be received positively.

4. Do And Say Less: Feedback is a conversation, not a monologue where you list off everything they’ve done wrong. Leaders will be most effective if they can get the other person to reflect on their own performance first. This helps them to practice reflection, which will make both of your jobs easier going forward.

5. Shared Responsibility: It is your job to help your team be successful and if they missed the mark, then you missed the mark, too. Seek input on what you could have done differently to create an environment of shared responsibility instead of blame. If you model taking responsibility, they will learn to do the same.

Building on those elements, we offer a simple process for giving feedback: the RFP model. We created it with a client to help them move away from the mandatory annual review to a more productive, ongoing conversation. They have embraced it and are seeing communication and performance thrive. What was once a check-the-box event, is now a two-way conversation that addresses what both parties have learned and what each will be doing differently going forward.

Here's how it works:


Begin with a status update in which both parties take time to reflect on their own contributions. Ideally, the direct report speaks first. Be sure to cover:

• Successes and what has gone well.

• Recent challenges and/or misses (not necessarily failures).

• Recognize unplanned work, achievements and learning.


Each person delivers feedback about what went well and less well, if it was not already covered in the Reflection phase. Feedback should be specific, actionable and timely, and should include:

• Developmental feedback (what they can start, stop, do more or less of).

• Recognition and appreciation.


If needed, establish goals and action steps for change, including:

• Desired future state, based on individual and/or business needs.

• Specific outcomes, activities and deadlines.

• Manager-explored opportunities to provide more support.

The art of feedback requires continued practice and fine-tuning. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but by following the simple steps above, you’ll find it is doable and rewarding. Making the above practices part of your regular conversations will continuously improve your working relationships and enhance performance, as well as build the trust that enables your positive intent to be understood. Lastly, remember to water the flowers – if you acknowledge any movement in the desired direction, they will surely grow.

About:  Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., SPHR is the Founder and CEO of the DILAN Consulting Group.

This article was first published at Forbes.com (May 2017). 

Leadership and Mindfulness

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way” (Frankl, 1992).

Stress Today

Stress today is everywhere. Leaders are often adept at managing highly stressful situations, but we are all interested in improving our performance. Self-care is critical for many successful leaders. While everyone learns to value aspects of balanced living in different ways, there’s a lot to be said for the simple yet meaningful practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness has received a lot of attention recently, while some leaders are now seasoned practitioners – other leaders are still Mindfulness beginners.

Why Mindfulness, why now?

We are now living in what some have termed a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) (Harvard Business Review, 2014). Leaders are forced to manage each aspect of how this impacts their organizations and employees. It is a new year, 2017. The intensity of last year will most likely spill over, so how do we ameliorate the stress of a volatile and unpredictable world? Enter mindfulness. The answer may be found in being a more mindful leader. Or essentially, a leader who also practices mindfulness.

Leadership is about inspiring and guiding everyone to be the best they can be and mindfulness fosters the ability for practitioners to live in the moment, to take control of any situation by having the presence to remain engaged, flexible, and even calm in an unpredictable and volatile world.

How do we practice Mindfulness?

The FEEL Model by Liz Hall (2013) is a helpful acronym that leaders can use to begin a mindfulness practice. Try FEEL,

Focus – set an intention on what you are trying to achieve. Being mindful is often about paying attention to something – our thoughts, our emotions, our bodily sensations, etc. One may have the intention to focus on their breath for three minutes (for example) before they start a challenging task.

Explore – as you breathe, notice what arises (our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodily sensations), notice each with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgement.

Embrace – each sensation with awareness – breathe as you note each emotion, physical sensation, or thought. Try not to push away or judge what you notice. Just let each experience come and go, like clouds floating by.

Let Go – this is about not holding on to something pleasant or unpleasant for too long. With your awareness, return your attention to the sensations of your breath. Continue to let go as you begin to breathe again.

Practicing mindfulness often does not feel easy or natural in the beginning. Like many new tasks and challenges, the barriers within us are often our biggest hurdle. Many beginners find taking an eight-week mindfulness course as the most practical and informative method to begin a practice. Practicing mindfulness is known to reduce the of impact stress in our personal lives, our job performance and our overall well-being. Research has consistently shown that practicing mindfulness increases productivity by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive well-being, even happiness. As a leader, fostering mindfulness will not only improve work-life balance but it will enhance your ability to choose how you respond to any given challenge or circumstance.

May we all have a more mindful and balanced - 2017. Keep practicing and stay present.

About: Felix Caraballo, PhD is an organizational psychologist and Senior Consultant at Dilan Consulting Group.


Decoding Authentic Leadership

Ancient Greek philosophers believed it was to “Know thyself,” in Shakespeare it was “To thine own self be true” (Polonius, Hamlet). Authenticity has been discussed for many centuries, long before the creation of modern day leadership theories. Authenticity has withstood the test of time and is now the latest ‘fad’ in the realm of leadership studies.

Let’s begin with how we define authentic leadership. Ask any individual to define the word ‘authentic,’ you may get responses such as ‘genuine,’ ‘speaking your truth,’ and perhaps ‘being honest.’ These appear to be relatively simple definitions, so should good leaders just be honest about everything, regardless of the outcome? Limiting the definition of a great leader to a one-dimensional definition such as ‘being honest’ drastically over simplifies the journey to becoming an effective leader. Great leaders are far from one-dimensional, so what makes us think we can use one-dimensional definitions to define their characteristics?

In the midst of morally corrupt and dysfunctional leaders, authentic leadership research has brought about a change in how effective leaders are defined and developed. More leaders desire a meaningful approach to how they serve, inspire, and guide their organization. I’ve heard several leaders ask “I want to be an authentic leader, what book should I read?” If only it was that simple! Prescribing a book about authentic leadership is a temporary and useless remedy for an ethically corrupt leader. A leader desiring sustainable success should be aware that long term success will not come with a ‘quick-fix’ approach. After all, sometimes the fastest way isn’t always the best way.

Authenticity calls for the ‘true self’ to be exposed, but leaders I’ve known to be blatantly honest and fully open about their feelings were a far cry from authentic. Such behaviors often result in poor relationships, mistrust, and even the collapse of an organization. Developing and emanating a fixed self-concept can make leaders appear inflexible when drastic organizational changes are required. Authentic leaders avoid a rigid style of leadership, they are willing to adapt to evolving situations and circumstances.

In addition, the world of business is becoming much more global, where interactions occur regularly with individuals of different cultural norms and beliefs. If a leader constantly exerts her own opinions, beliefs, and values on followers she appears more as a dictator and less as an authentic leader. How a leader chooses to interpret authentic leadership will potentially make or break her image.

While theorists and leadership researchers have created multiple definitions of authentic leadership; most agree authentic leaders’ posses the following four characteristics:

1.     Self-Awareness. The authentic leader develops a clear understanding of her strengths, weaknesses, and emotions. The keyword here is weaknesses, by acknowledging their limitations they often find methods for overcoming them. Building self-awareness is a continuous journey as life events and circumstances alter one’s self-concept.    

2.     Relational Transparency. Authentic Leaders are open and forthcoming in their interactions with others; unafraid to be vulnerable.

3.     Balanced Processing. Authentic Leaders are able to hear and consider numerous perspectives during a decision making process.

4.     Internalized Moral Perspective. Authentic leaders possess a strong moral compass, with values and beliefs that are not easily influenced by outside pressures.

Authentic leaders are dedicated to building lasting relationships. They make connections with the help of empathy and build trust through vulnerability. This statement does not infer that authentic leaders portray themselves as ‘weak’ or ‘soft,’ they are in fact direct in their communication when required. Directness is often crucial to success of the individual and the organization. Nevertheless, the trait of empathy is often utilized when authentic leaders choose to be straightforward with followers and colleagues. This style of leadership is far from a ‘may way or the highway’ approach, because authentic leaders think collaboratively and create a safe environment that encourages others to share diverse viewpoints. They take satisfaction in empowering and inspiring their followers. Fundamentally, authentic leaders’ actions elicit hope, trust, and positive emotions in followers.

Although we’ve established it is not a ‘quick fix’ approach, the development of authentic leadership extinguishes the idea that leaders are born with innate qualities, traits, and characteristics. Authentic leaders are not just born; they develop through a lifetime of self-reflection and self-awareness. Authentic leadership gives hope to individuals at any stage of their careers or lifespans. It is never too late to become an authentic leader, it is however a fallacy to think such skills can be achieved quickly and without continuous, life long effort.

About: Rumneek Sall, MA, is a Doctoral Intern at Dilan Consulting Group, with a research focus on Authentic Leadership among women minority leaders.



How to Create and Sustain Employee Motivation


The million-dollar question for managers: How do I motivate my employees and keep them motivated?

Over 20 years I’ve managed individual employees and built high performing teams, and I’ve always been perplexed by the large disparity in performance between equally skilled individuals. Figuring out why has become my life’s work. 

My investigation led me to the work of Sigmund Freud, who borrowed the term “dynamics” from physics when he coined “psychodynamics”. We can further apply the logic of physics to the understanding of work motivation, which I define as the desire to exert effort toward completing job tasks. 

I take this a step further and introduce the term motivation momentum as a psychological combination of mass and velocity (mass x velocity = momentum).  Often we hear a sportscaster describe a team as having momentum, and we might ask: What factors contribute to that kind of momentum? How does it work? Just as Freud suggested, the problem is dynamic in nature. 

One of the key factors in motivation momentum lies along the following continuum:

“Why should I bother doing this?”    “Why it is I really want to do this?                                                           

·      Employees that sustain high performance levels tend to have reasons behind their desire to work hard. 

·      Conversely, low performers tend to have reasons that leave them wondering why should they bother. 

Examples of these mass variables include pay, working conditions, benefits, achievement, growth, and advancement. Examples of these velocity factors include emotions, perceived fairness, self-concept, and social perception.

What gives these factors mass is how much or deep they can impact an individual’s psyche.  I also call these nurturing and non-nurturing factors.  Nurturing factors are factors such as achievement, growth, and advancement.  These factors are developmental and can possess great amounts of psychological mass.  Whereas, pay, working conditions, and benefits are non-nurturing factors, are not typically used for developing employees, and possess less psychological mass.

Subsequently, velocity factors are the individual differences of each employee that fluctuate, and are more or less stable.  For example, moods and emotions can be intense and change rapidly, generating large amounts of energy and creating short bursts of psychological velocity. Factors like perceived fairness are more stable, and provide less of a spike in energy, but have a greater impact on the long-term trajectory.

The combination of how these mass and velocity factors interact produces varying degrees of motivation momentum. Understanding the mechanics that create motivation momentum can be an essential tool for managers.  Depending on the immediate or long term goals of an organization, managers can adjust their approach to motivate their employees.

Such as, a sales manager may target the moods and emotions of each team member to elicit a quick burst of motivation momentum to achieve an immediate goal.  Conversely, a manager seeking long-term motivation for a project team may target the more stable factors such as perceived fairness and social perception to elicit motivation momentum that has more staying power.

Human capital is the most important resource of any organization, and motivation momentum can empower individual achievement, attain organizational objectives, and increase the bottom line. This is one of the most important challenges organizations face. We can brainstorm strategy until we are blue in the face, but if our employees are not inspired to see it through none of it matters.

About:  Chris Boasso, MA. is a Doctoral Intern at the Dilan Consulting Group.