This past week I spoke at my last conference for 2015 up in Ottawa. This is likely one of my favourite conferences each year for various reasons. The people are great, the location is great and I’ve always felt welcome. There’s also my conference friends I keep bumping into in my travels (too many to name).

This year my talk was titled “Leading for Change”. Long story short the presentation is an overview of my thoughts around leadership, people and the need to rethink how we approach leading change. I sincerely hope people took something from the talk as I know I did. Getting in front of an audience to do a talk provides me lots to think about.

One of the things I value most about doing talks is getting feedback from those who took the time to listen to what I said. This year the conference essentially had green and red tags to drop into a basket. If you liked the talk you dropped in a green. If you didn’t like the talk you dropped in a red.

Generally the tags were green. Which is really nice as it confirms I’m on to something. There were a few red which I totally respect as well. Then there was one person who took the time to write a note from me on a post-it and stick it to a red tag. I took the post-it as I wanted to reflect on the note. I’d obviously triggered something strong for someone as they took the time to write a note.

I regret not having taken a picture of it. However the post-it had things on it like:

  • Boring
  • Long winded
  • No substance

I am realistic about my work and the talks I do. I know as a speaker there will be those I don’t connect with. As much as I would love nothing better than to connect with 100% of the people in the room, I know that goal is likely unachievable.

The importance of feedback

To be honest the system many conferences have adopted for feedback isn’t overly helpful in my opinion. It’s a good indication of whether my talk may have resonated with people. As Canadian’s we’re generally nice people so it’s possible if people are on the fence they lean towards green. I can only make assumptions about what the audience was thinking based on their reactions in the moment.

In a talk I did at the Toronto Agile Conference last month I received more detailed comments with the feedback. In this I had a startling revelation about the topic and significantly shifted my views. I am now rethinking this whole talk and it’s likely going to evolve into an entire workshop. I appreciate the detailed thinking people have about the subject.

Most of the conferences I attend I do not make money. In fact, with most of them I get in for free but it costs me my expenses to be there. I love giving back to the community, and attending these types of events benefits me as well through exposure. However, I would love if the organizers of conferences would show an appreciation for speakers by ensuring we get more comprehensive feedback. The value of insightful feedback helps justifies the expense for being there.

Leading for ChangeTM

Frequent feedback is such a critical part of learning & growth. When we talk about creating high performance teams, the people need to develop rapid feedback loops to allow constant adjustment and growth. Without these feedback loops high performance and continued improvement are simply not possible.

A term I’ve grown to hate is constructive criticism. For me these two words imply “I’m about to give you brutally honest and potentially harsh feedback, and please don’t let your emotions get in the way when you receive it.” If you haven’t noticed this isn’t possible as people simply cannot leave part of themselves outside. We can suppress part of who we are, but that is only going to cause stress and unhappiness. This type of feedback isn’t overly helpful. Neither is drive-by management, where a manager tells the team to work harder from a distance (I know a manager who never shows up in the team space, but pressures the team to work harder through their middle management).

If you want those around you to improve, take the time to sit down with them and explore. Don’t sugar coat, instead treat them like the leaders they are and provide the facts and/or observations. Then take the time with them to explore the perspectives of whatever is happening. You might be amazed what shows up, and what improvements become possible with this simple collaboration. Don’t forget to

As leaders your job is to develop leaders. All of them. Everyone who looks to you as a leader is a leader and if you treat them this way they will start to act like leaders. Imagine if everyone around you just knew what to do and acted as a leader. They would always be helping move the team towards it’s common objective. You would have far less management to do.

Conference Feedback

As for the feedback I received this week on that little post-it … thanks. I didn’t say it at the start of this talk, I want everyone to have a valuable day when attending conferences. So my invitation for everyone is if I’m doing a talk you find boring or it’s not a valuable use of your time … please go find a speaker you will get value from. Seriously … nothing makes me happier when people do this.

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