Coaching Style: Are You Open to Feedback?

May 2020
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PR leaders could use more coaching and self-awareness, new research suggests. 

In a 2019 survey, rank-and-file practitioners said PR leaders are performing at C+ levels, down from a grade of B- in 2018. Meanwhile, those of us with big titles will say we’re doing A- work. These are the findings of “The Report Card on Public Relations Leaders 2019,” from the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama. 

The average grade and downward trend in PR-leadership performance, which was discussed in depth in the February issue of Strategies & Tactics, is troubling — particularly in these unprecedentedly unpredictable times during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the seeming lack of self-awareness among veteran PR pros should concern us even more. It’s a painful reminder that we could all benefit from some tough-love feedback. Unfortunately however, despite abundant assessment tools and literature on how to give feedback, far less has been written about the right way to receive it. 

Being a good ‘coachee’ 

Having spent most of my career in and around technology, I get my inspiration from tech pioneers like Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google. He credits his longtime executive coach, the late Bill Campbell, for much of his success in building high-performing teams. 

Plenty of other tech visionaries — including Google co-founder Larry Page, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — also sought guidance from Campbell, who was a former college-football coach. Those high-profile businesspeople continued to receive Campbell’s executive coaching well after they had earned off-the-charts acclaim for themselves, with salaries to match. 

The beloved “Coach Bill” is said to have talked to corporate leaders about the traits of a good “coachee.” Those qualities include honesty, humility, willingness to work hard and persevere, openness to learning, and a desire to serve something larger than oneself. 

Receiving feedback well

The goal should be to create a culture for your organization or team where self-awareness, feedback and coaching thrive. I was fortunate to have a professional coach for several years. He taught me a tremendous amount and changed the trajectory of my career by pushing me to achieve things I would not have pursued otherwise. 

I believe in the coach-player relationship, especially at important junctures. But I’m also a fan of feedback, both formal and informal. We can learn much from candid discussions with our colleagues, but usually we have to ask them for their feedback. 

Here are some tips to consider when on the receiving end of coaching or constructive criticism:

  • Listen. Ask thoughtful questions. Ask for examples or hypothetical scenarios that illustrate the other person’s advice and deepen your understanding of it. Give yourself time to process what you’ve heard.
  • Show humility. When being coached or receiving feedback, resist the urge to become defensive or to justify your past actions. Remember that understanding other people’s points doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them. 
  • Honor coaching relationships. When we seek feedback from others it’s our responsibility to make the requests, schedule the meetings, and think through our objectives and approaches beforehand. Afterward, check back with the same people from time to time to ask them how you’re doing. It shows that you’ve listened and taken their advice to heart. Following up also helps keep you on track. Ideally, you’ll receive continuous feedback from every level within (and even outside) your organization.
  • Show your appreciation. Remember to thank the people who give you feedback. Whenever possible, express your appreciation in writing. Mention the insights you’ve gained from them, and what you plan to do differently after hearing their advice. After all, feedback is a gift.
photo credit: xefstock
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