Genuine feedback is critical for growth, particularly for a new supervisor.

May 5, 2022 at 12:57 PM
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Genuine feedback is critical for growth, particularly for a new supervisor.

Lindsay Jacobs QC’10

and

Jim Stellar

Lindsay and Jim met at Queens College when she was a student, and he was a provost. They stayed in touch through the years as Jim continued to be a close friend, a thought-partner, and mentor to Lindsay. The secret is that Jim learned as much from Lindsay as the other way around.

Recently, while discussing the importance of feedback, Lindsay referenced a philosophy for sharing feedback based on the book, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. That spurred a conversation which led to this blog about how feedback is vital to us all, but particularly to supervisors like Lindsay, as we are all learning and growing even well after the college years.

So, my first question is what did you see in this book that resonated with you?

The first time I heard about Radical Candor was through my mentor, colleague, and friend. At the time, I was transitioning from my role as an early childhood Instructional coordinator or coach into an administrative role, where I would be supervising my former colleagues. In my role as a coach, I was already unknowingly relying on the use of “radically candid feedback” with teachers and leaders across the early childhood programs with which I worked. Now, I would be shifting my focus to supervising others and found myself using a similar form of feedback. 

For those who are not as familiar with the book, the Radical Candor matrix measures how directly you challenge someone’s practice with how much you care, personally. This breaks feedback into four quadrants: Ruinous Empathy (indirect challenge, personal care); Manipulative Insincerity (indirect challenge, impersonal care); Obnoxious Aggression (direct challenge, impersonal care); and Radical Candor (direct challenge, personal care). The piece that resonated the most for me was the human aspect. While the role of a coach does not always involve feedback or challenging practices, it always involves the people and relies on care. 

That is fascinating. I see radical candor as an example of cognitive-emotional integration where the person puts themselves in another’s place but uses that knowledge to be impactful. It is not easy to do “direct challenge and personal care” at the same time. From our talks, it seems that you can do it, but where did you learn how?

Honestly, I’m still learning and growing in my own ways, but I’ve learned the most from others along the way. I think, for me, the “care” comes to me more naturally. It may seem silly bringing in a children’s book to this conversation, but a book I often read with my daughters is “Be Kind,” by Pat Zeitlow Miller. In the book, the narrator names how easy being kind should be. One example in the book is using someone’s name, which seems simple, but can really have an impact. I think that by being direct and using someone’s name when speaking with them, or remembering a personal fact about them, you build a connection and form a stronger relationship. By honoring the person and showing that they have value, whether they are a colleague, a friend, or someone you supervise, the personal care aspect becomes more evident.

Thinking about the words, “cognitive-emotional integration,” also makes me think about how empathy guides our work and connections. While some may not always equate empathy with coaching or supervision, for me, it brings in the idea of recognizing where other people are coming from and what values they hold dear. By naming, honoring, and valuing what is important to them, it helps me to frame our conversation in a space built on mutual respect. Of course, recognizing where someone is coming from and agreeing with them entirely does not always go hand-in-hand. Instead, recognizing emotions is just one way that we can connect and empathize with someone.

That is great too, but now talk about the idea of connecting with the people you supervise.

For me, connections really boil down to getting to know each person and their work individually. When I first moved into the leadership position, I was tasked with supervising people that were mentors to me. The vast majority of the people on my team were in the coaching role longer than I had been, and had been the ones teaching me much about the job. Because of this, I truly felt an obligation to respect the connections and relationships that we had built as colleagues, and to not forget what it had been like when I was in their position.

This has led me to a few realizations:

1. Every person has their own unique way of processing. This has to do with processing events taking place, feedback given, giving feedback, engaging in conversations, completing their work, etc. As a supervisor, this means that I must adjust my ways of supervision to be responsive to their needs. Obviously, people may not come in with a clear expectation of what they’re looking for from a supervisor, so I needed to engage in multiple contexts over a period of time and to learn from our interactions to modify my supervision based on our work together.

2. Venting needs space and time, but it cannot guide the work. As a supervisor who prioritizes listening to my team members, I have found that there are certain situations where someone just needs to VENT! Personally, I’m the type of person who “speaks to think,” so I recognize that not everything said aloud is a cohesive and formalized thought. Instead, I have learned to allow the space for people to share their thoughts or “venting,” and then shift our focus towards real action steps. Not only does this allow for people to feel heard and valued, but it also offers us a way to move forward. instead of getting “stuck,” we’re able to think of what comes next and move away from the sticky parts.

3. I am not the holder of all knowledge. This was hard for me… as a young supervisorI. I very quickly came to recognize there are many times each day where I am searching for answers alongside my team members. While this could be looked at as a sign of weakness, I also think it helped to build a level of mutual respect, where neither of us were looked at as the holders of all knowledge and/or it was clear that I was willing to listen and learn from people I supervise.

4. A culture of feedback needs to be created, maintained, and upheld. When we look at a team of professionals, no two people’s paths to their current role looks the same. Previous bosses, colleagues, mentors, etc. have all had lasting impacts on us all, for better or for learning. Recognizing this, helps me to remember that trust takes time to build. When I ask for feedback, it has taken time and repeated interactions to show I mean it when I ask questions It is my responsibility as a leader to show my team that feedback helps to inform my own next steps and offers me more insight into the experiences each of them is having. While I could make assumptions about the work, there are so many times that I’ve missed what was going on, or done something because I assumed it was what was right, and been wrong. By asking for feedback and implementing it or sharing it in a thoughtful and intentional way, I continue to work towards a culture that values feedback and transparency.

Given that you are the leader. How do you keep it straight while also being a colleague and connected person?  You are not quite equals.

That’s a great question … I still joke with some of my team members that I knew I was truly a supervisor when I was removed from the “group text message.”  It was important for me to recognize that not every conversation needs to involve an administrator, and that there is a certain level of trust that is built knowing that I am not part of every discussion on the team.

With that said, being that we were previously colleagues in my unit, I have gotten to know much of my team on a deeper level, and can often “read between the lines.” If I walk into the office and there’s a certain feeling or people begin asking certain questions, I’m able to sense if something needs to be said or discussed in a more formal or professional manner (or if I just need to bring some donuts … I truly believe donuts are a great first step to resolving problems).

Another leadership skill that I’ve worked on honing is not making decisions based on my “approval rating.” I prioritize making sure my team knows what I stand for and what core values lead my work (equity, joy, and humor). When I share decisions or ask the team to engage in a task, I always do my best to share the purpose and tie it into our values. By knowing my values and my team’s values, I try to remain connected to our purpose and to make decisions based on a shared vision we have created.

Of course, all of this discussion is underpinned by the cognitive-emotional integration that is often mentioned in this blog series as being relevant to experiential learning in college through internships, etc. But folks also learn on the job, particularly when they supervise others. That learning too we think, involves the same processes in the brain and in psychology. We will return to these ideas later.

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