How to raise performance without lowering confidence

Strong BusinessmanHave you ever had a phone conversation with a friend that you have not spoken with in a long time and it’s so easy to pick up from where you left off with them years ago?

That’s how I felt recently when I spoke with my friend Mark.

Mark and I were Lieutenants in the Army together when we were both stationed at Fort Gordon, GA. He is super smart and the type of person you trust immediately because he is a person of high integrity.

It was fun to catch up on our personal and professional lives. And, it was even more fun to reminisce about some of the early mistakes we made as leaders.

One of my many early leadership mistakes was a doozy.

As an extra responsibility, I was assigned as the Food Service Officer for a battalion full of soldiers. It wasn’t my normal duty, just when we deployed to the field to conduct training exercises.

I really knew nothing about being a Food Service Officer. My friends would tell you that I could barely cook. So I relied heavily on a highly trained non-commissioned officer (let’s call him Dave) whose daily job it was to lead a team of professional cooks as they fed a few thousand people.

On one training exercise in the field, there were some hiccups with the food service operations for which Dave had responsibility. In reality they were relatively minor. But, in my youthful vigor and zest for “organizational excellence,” I made a big deal about these small problems.

When the training event was completed, I did what was expected of me and I wrote a performance evaluation on Dave.

My over emphasis on the small problems and under emphasis on his accomplishments really dented his confidence. He sent one of his friends to discuss it with me and I was not at my best.

The story came back to my mind because Jessica Mah, Co-founder & CEO of inDinero, was our guest on the “From Founder TO CEO” podcast this week. She recounted a similar story about a time one of her investors gave her some pretty tough feedback that had the effect of temporarily denting her confidence.

There is lots of advice out there about giving performance feedback. As the Founding CEO of a growing business, one of your inescapable responsibilities is to observe your leadership team members, assess their capabilities, provide feedback about their performance and find the right resources to help them succeed.

During this ongoing process, I think’s it’s important to build your team members’ confidence rather lower their confidence like I did as a young Army Lieutenant and as Jessica experienced.

One of the best ways I have found to build, rather than lower confidence in a performance feedback conversation, is actually pretty simple.

Ask your direct reports or team members to evaluate themselves, first. Ask them what they think they might improve upon next time or continue doing next time.

It may not work in all situations. But, I have found that this increases the likelihood of growth, development, and personal responsibility more than most other performance feedback approaches. And, it often helps to reduce the unintended consequence of lowering the confidence of the people you worked hard to recruit to your startup or fast growth company.

What do you do to enhance performance and limit lowering the confidence of your leadership team?

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