Every leader needs to encourage others to find within themselves their own budding tendencies toward leadership and to help them develop, because to succeed in sustainable community development, a community must become, to the greatest extent possible, a community of leaders. All it takes to encourage leadership in others is to keep eyes and ears open and paper and pencil ready.
One of the most important tasks of a leader is to continually expand the opportunities for leadership in others and to support those with the courage to step forward. “I already do that,” you might think, “that is when I can think of something worthwhile to say.” I suggest writing an evaluation in a similar way every time you observe someone assuming the role of leader. What do they have to offer? Their point of view.
Each person’s point of view is unique and important. The same is true of their thoughtful comments. Why? Because each person reacts differently to a given leader, in addition to which professionals who take surveys know that feedback on a questionnaire reveals more about the evaluator (in this case you) than the person being evaluated. This means that even as you help others through your gift of feedback, you help yourself (the evaluator) to find things you can use to enhance your own learning and performance.
Further, sustainable community development, which depends for its survival on information, is based on a leadership in relation to a followership. And because the meeting of any given committee can be a microcosm of the community “out there,” leaders need feedback from as many people as they can get. Once that feedback is available, the leaders will have a better idea of how they are affecting the community as a whole. So, what do you do?
First, nurture and counsel to encourage the leader. “That’s a fine notion,” you might think, “but I don’t always have a comment. Besides, that feels like criticism and I don’t like being criticized, so if I do it to someone else, they might do it back to me.” Perhaps you are thinking of the Yugoslavian proverb: Speak the truth, but leave immediately after.
To alleviate your anxiety, I suggest a particular format from the field of learning theory. Begin by finding something the person did well.
Second, be specific. Learning theory suggests that improvement happens most quickly when we can distinguish specific behaviors that are successful. Pointing out specific behaviors also adds credibility to your comments, which can be thought of as catching someone doing something right and pointing it out to them.
By way of example, I was facilitating a visioning process some time back. During the course of explaining how a vision to which people are committed determines what happens to their community, I paused several times and asked: “Am I making sense to you?” After the visioning process was over, a gentleman remarked: “I really liked your asking us if you were making sense. It not only told me that you really care about us as people and a community but also gave me permission to respond honestly without worrying too much about putting you on the defensive.”
One way to find specific behaviors about which to comment is to ask yourself the following questions: What one thing in this person’s style of leadership works best? What one thing distracts the most?
Third, suggest an improvement. The last step is to identify a specific behavior that could be improved. Although this may seem difficult, there are several ways to gently suggest improvements. One way is to ask a question, such as, “Would it work better to make eye contact with the whole audience instead of focusing on one person?” Or begin your comment with “You might try. . . .” Another way to soften your comment is by turning it into a positive: “Your ability to talk to people rather than at them is a real gift; it is particularly important that you use this gift during the committee’s deliberations on the vision statement.”
Identifying something specific is critical because it both depersonalizes and neutralizes the observation. You could say, for example, "If you speak from your heart, what you really feel, your authenticity, will come across," instead of saying, "You need to be more authentic."1
Comments must always include a word of encouragement for a specific behavior that is positive and a suggestion for improvement for a specific behavior as needed. Remember, the duty of a true leader is to lead by example, with means keeping your eyes and ears open and your pencil ready for the benefit of, emerging leaders.
Series on Qualities Of Leadership:
Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.
This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.