One of the things I most admire about individuals who consistently perform at optimal levels is their willingness to put themselves into situations where they constantly receive feedback. This idea of gathering as much feedback and information as possible – in order to achieve and maintain high-level performance – is outlined in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his deeply influential book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
The approach of allowing for continual feedback, is something I have found to be a personal and professional imperative and a pathway towards positive change and sustainable growth. It can be said that not all feedback and information is relevant. That is an accurate assessment, however, I have learned over time that all information is good information. Being willing to receive feedback that on face-value appears irrelevant, helps us improve our interpretation of nuance, refine our critical thinking skills, and achieve optimal performance.
In the on-going spirit of transparency, it can be said that I was not always receptive to incoming feedback, especially the ceaseless variety (que the laughter). I have learned the hard way, that a lack of willingness to receive feedback is a missed opportunity to learn and grow. Feedback and growth are no longer interesting ideas to me, they are personal and professional commitments.
Taking those things into account, I am sharing a letter recently written to one of my mentors. Though I have X’d out the name of my mentor, I will share that the care and interest this person exhibited towards me, has been incredibly influential and has served to shape my worldview in a profound and meaningful way. That experience will have to be a conversation for a future post..
Without further delay, here is an example of my commitment to receiving feedback, adaptation, and growth. Thanks so much for reading and…..Lead on!
Good Afternoon Professor XXXXX,
I facilitate discussions and teach a variety of workshops on Positive Leadership; based on the principles of positive psychology, while often referencing Marty Seligman’s ‘PERMA’ model, your work, and other tributary concepts.
I place tremendous emphasize on ideas such as: values, purpose, meaning, and trust-building. Recently, I have included the concepts of critical-thinking, ethics, and believe it or not, morals into these discussions. To clarify the use of ‘morals’, I define the term as “something we are unwilling to compromise” or “a personal or professional absolute”. I clarify the use of ‘critical-thinking’ as type of leadership and organizational decision-making tool. I challenge participants to consider why the use of these terms have fallen out of favor in modern times and ask if we have lost anything by getting away from these ideas and this type of language. I have found that these concepts are familiar and accessible to participants thus supporting their willingness to be challenged and engage in group dialogue.
As you can imagine, I receive a variety of responses but mostly the expected concerns of using terms like “morals and absolutes” because they are associated with judgment and criticism. So, I ask the follow-up question, “are there certain things we should be judging or criticizing within our organizations?” This type of dialogue gives me access to challenge organizations and executives on their assumptions, organizational confirmation bias, and the unfortunate and far too often refusal to modify belief systems and course correct when necessary. As you are aware, executives and organizations often protect and defend their positions without a shred of the necessary evidence to substantiate the validity and usefulness of their beliefs.
This type of exchange allows for me to dig in and further explore the question of “should we challenge our beliefs and modify our worldview?” I unequivocally advocate that we should routinely challenge our beliefs while exhibiting a willingness to amend our worldview. When we receive new, better, counter-balancing, contrary, oppositional, or unfamiliar information – it should merely be viewed as information, not a leadership or organizational affront. A real and ongoing organizational challenge is establishing and maintaining a culture where all information is welcomed and opposing views are honored and expected. Though I’m sure that many people would willingly debate my next statement, I can all but guarantee an imminent performance and cultural demise within organizations if leaders fail to grow, adapt, and regularly adjust their thinking as a result of missing opportunities to challenge their assumptions and belief systems. A newer and exciting aspect of my work is in helping organizations learn to value all information and perspectives, while building-in mechanisms that gather meaningful insights while lessening the organizational confirmation bias.
I have included the aforementioned into my workshops for a variety of reasons including: challenging participants to define and use language that truly represents their values and helps them achieve ‘shared-meaning’. I also find great benefit in helping participants develop methods of challenging the status quo. This approach is intended to create a shift towards a growth mindset and away from positional-thinking.
During some of these discussions, I am occasionally met with the comment and idea that individuals (and some organizations) have a “personal truth” thus rendering truth, a subjective concept. I understand why this idea is introduced into our discussions but I almost always feel the need to push back. My concern is that this idea – having a “personal truth” – seems to be mostly used when people are referencing their individual experiences, not the actual truth. I am a student of communication, arguably one of, if not the most important leadership competency, so I challenge participants to determine if their “personal truth” references their experience or the actual ‘truth’. Mostly, folks arrive at the conclusion that they are referencing their experience and desire to feel valued and accepted as individual contributors. I am eager to help folks achieve their desire for self-expression and acceptance as it supports developing a sense of agency and a host of other beneficial possibilities but, I challenge the notion that having a “personal truth” is synonymous with truth or being truthful.
The idea of truth is so intertwined with trust-building and honesty that I often plan for lengthy discussion around these points. Just a quick thought – I offer this next idea based on leadership and relational experience, not from extensive research (at this point). I have also found that in an organizational setting, trust is the precursor to honesty. Until trust is established, my experience dictates that honesty is represented in degrees ranging from partial concealment to full transparency and openness.
That mighty long preamble leads to some questions if you would be willing to indulge. First, am I on the right track with my understanding of the concept of ‘personal truth’? Should we use language that has subjective implications when referencing critical ideas that support purpose, meaning, and the greater good? Secondly, what are your thoughts on my experience that ‘trust’ precedes ‘honesty’ in an organizational setting? I probably should have mentioned that in person-to-person relationships, I feel that honesty precedes trust, very different from the organizational context.
In closing, I want to offer my gratitude and thanks for your work and contributions to the social sciences and the development of Positive Leadership. My praise of your efforts and contributions come not only as a professional, but a father of three, a steward and champion of Positive Leadership, someone interested in pro-social work, and the advancement of the greater-good. You are valued and greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much – from Austin, Texas – on a stormy Sunday afternoon.