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Living in a fishbowl, or what is it like to be a manager – a few lessons on effective leadership and management #lesson4

About the author

Agnieszka Jarecka | HR Operations Director
What changed when you became a manager? – this question was raised by new managers during the Empower Managers Program graduation ceremony in Aon last year and inspired me to write a series of 4 short articles on leadership and management based on my personal experience.

Lesson 4 – The feedback loop or how to survive in a hall of mirrors

I remember that day very clearly – it was our nine o’clock weekly team meeting, and one of our colleagues was late about 20 minutes, the third time in a row. There were a few items on our agenda and we could not start without the whole team in the room. Everyone felt frustrated and foolish because, by being made to wait for the latecomer, they were effectively punished for their punctuality. I sensed irritation and hidden anger from the team and their unspoken expectation for me to react, despite my natural resistance to sharing constructive feedback. Therefore, after the meeting, I invited the colleague to a room and shared the impact of his behaviour on team engagement and our daily work. I was extremely stressed, but at the same time I felt I was doing the right thing – I realised the colleague wanted to test the new boss’s limits and frankly expected me to react at some point. On the other hand, others wanted me to correct inappropriate behaviour and take care of the team’s health and secure good performance.

On the very day, I realised, feedback is an inevitable part of a managerial toolkit, if not the most important one. Your team really expects clear feedback from you on their performance – both positive and constructive: without that, they are not able to grow and learn.

Every piece of feedback is a reflection of what is visible to others. Sometimes the picture in a mirror is skewed because we cannot see the original intentions or an actual effort, just the outcome processed by our own communication filters. However, we are in a unique position to see our colleagues’ blind spots they are not able to notice themselves. One piece of such precious feedback I received personally was regarding my tone of voice during team meetings. I tend to speak loud and strong when the topic is very engaging, so the others may feel overwhelmed and scared to take part in the discussion. Now I am aware of that, and at least I can monitor it or share it upfront with my colleagues, so they do not feel I am shouting at them.

Giving and receiving constructive feedback is never easy, regardless of whether you have 5 months or 15 years of experience. The key reason is that you can easily make the others feel attacked or offended and therefore totally closed for the message you want to share. And frankly, you cannot completely avoid that, no matter how hard you try to be polite and sensitive… the first reaction will be a denial and disagreement.

However, if you treat it as a gift to a colleague, as a blind spot that it will no longer be blind, if you put yourself in their shoes and give some hints and tips how to tackle the issues, you are likely to get them to listen and eventually grow. I think the key is how you personally treat the subject you want to raise with the colleague – is it an opportunity to learn or punish the colleague… everything starts with you.

On the other hand, praising for good work and sharing recognitions is sometimes forgotten, especially in a Polish culture, where we find it easier to spot mistakes and negatives than appreciate achievements. We are not used to say “good job”, because we expect everyone to deliver, especially if someone is already an expert or in a senior role.

However, how would you feel if someone noticed your efforts and thanked you in a private conversation or in front of the others? Regardless of whether you are very junior or experienced, the impact on your engagement would be huge! So, if you like something the others accomplished, if there is a behaviour you would like to encourage in the team, say it aloud! The more specific and personal you are, the more valuable appreciation is for the colleague.

I would encourage everyone, not only managers, to step into the hall of mirrors and ask for feedback on your performance on a regular basis. Even if the message you get from the others is never objective, you can use it to identify common themes and react to the perception you make, otherwise, you may end up in a dream of your own reality and never wake up…

And, give back what you have received from the others – help them identify their strengths by appreciating their achievements and provide them with constructive feedback in a way you would like to receive it… the feedback loop is like karma…it pays off!

There are probably more things that have changed and seem obvious when you have been a people manager for years. Is there anything you would like to add to the list above?


Go back to:
Lesson 1 –  Head, hands and the power of leverage
Lesson 2 – Trust or control?
Lesson 3 –  Living in a fishbowl and the power of check-in 

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