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N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.

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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Now in Session

May 1, 2012:  Providing Positive Feedback

I was coaching Alex, president of a $100 million dollar consumer products company. I typically develop a customized 360 feedback assessment for all executive coaching clients.  I also have them complete a behavioral styles and values survey.  These management assessments form a baseline for creating their development plan. 

Alex engaged me because he  was struggling with his ability to  lead the company in the direction  necessary to excel in their market.  He tended to be very demanding of himself, yet his 360 feedback assessment revealed that he was "too nice" to other members of the team who were not carrying their weight.  He also didn't regularly let those who were doing a good job know that they were doing well or give them much feedback at all for that matter.  Alex admitted he had difficulty confronting poor performance, but thought he had been doing a good job of regularly providing positive feedback.

First we addressed providing positive feedback.  I asked him how often he thought he gave positive feedback.  "Several times a day...whenever I see it," he assured me.

"Let's test that," I responded.  "I'd like to request that you take 5 pennies and put them in your left pocket.  Each time, you recognize an employee for doing something right and offer them positive feedback, you will transfer that penny to the other pocket.  At the end of the day, see if you have been able to transfer all the coins.  Are you willing to do that?"

Alex smiled and said, "Sure."

This may seem like a silly exercise, but Alex found it quite revealing.  When I asked him how it went, he said, "I guess I thought I was doing it more than I really was.  What was really happening is that I was thinking it in my head, but it never came out of my mouth.  This became clear at 3 PM one afternoon as I stuck my hand in my pocket and I still had all 5 pennies left.  I realized that I can get so focused on the activities of the day, that I sometimes forget the people involved.  This exercise has made me very aware of the need to be more conscious of recognizing others.

I smiled and said, "It's a good reminder. How long do you think you need to keep the pennies in your pocket?"

"For as long as it takes until this becomes so natural, I don't even have to think about it,"  he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Key Points:

Alex is not unusual.  We often think we are doing things, but we just aren't.  The first step is awareness.  Try this penny exercise and see how you are doing.

In our next issue, we'll discover how Alex dealt with providing constructive feedback.

For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.