REFLECT 365: Why have you not told everyone in your organization the bitter truth about their performance this year?

By Ed Leaders posted 07-17-2015 10:45 AM



Before beginning this blog, I would first like to say how humbled and thankful I am to be working with the Illinois Principal’s Association (IPA) on this endeavor. Nearly a year ago Jason Leahy, Executive Director of IPA, and I began a dialogue about the power of reflection and brainstormed ways to bring this topic to the forefront of people’s minds in an engaging manner that could truly impact the practices of our leaders. Months later, here we sit, starting a year-long blog series in which we have sought (and are still seeking) contributors from throughout the nation to lead weekly blogs on thought-provoking topics centered on the concept of reflection. It is my honor to kick this process off with an initial posting to begin the dialogue and I sincerely look forward to a full-year of engagement on this topic. My hope is that we can all grow together as we take time to look back in order to look forward.


Why have you not told everyone in your organization the bitter truth about their performance this year?

Research studies, leadership manifestos, and blogs such as this do not mince words about the importance of providing frank and honest feedback to all within our organizations. This process is called different things by different people, whether it is Kotter talking about confronting the brutal facts or Collins taking in one step further to get everyone on (and off) the bus and in the right seats. The bottom line is that a key element of a leader’s job is to provide critical information about performance to their staff. Personally, I refer to this process as creating a new reality and, in my experience – this is hard, stressful work that some leaders forgive themselves of even attempting to complete. While this topic itself can bring about its own book, graduate course, or professional development session I will outline three steps that all leaders can take to begin moving down this difficult, but necessary, path.


1.  (Wo)Man in the mirror

My belief is that each of us are working tremendously hard and putting whatever effort that we believe we can afford into our jobs. I applaud each of you for this. At the end of the day, however, anyone can work hard and as an educator you have the moral imperative to not only work, but perform at an extremely high level to best serve children. Simply put, if as a leader you cannot look beyond how hard you are working to honestly look at your effectiveness and the results you are creating you are unwilling to create a new reality.

To effectively lead change and transform your organization the very first (and most important) person you must provide honest feedback to is yourself – and there is no short cut to this process.


2. Common purpose

Being able to provide critical feedback is increasingly difficult as a leader when you feel it is my opinion versus someone else’s. While I would contend as a leader, that is still your job to provide such feedback in a case such as this, the position of a leader is strengthened and stress is decreased when an organization is committed to a common purpose. Frequently, these are embodied through a mission, vision, and values statement. While this seems like organizational leadership 101, it is more practical than you may think. Of the two scenarios below, which is more comfortable to say (and stronger):

  • I believe that you need to change your behavior because . . .


  • Your current behavior does not align with our collaboratively agreed upon organizational values.


3. Care enough to critique

I often hear from people that they care too much about their staff to provide the necessary critical feedback. The exact opposite is true. Anytime as a leader you choose to not share something with someone that would improve their professional performance you are choosing yourself over them. You are choosing your own comfort over their growth. This is not leadership – this is the absence of leadership. Remember this – if the truth hurts – it probably should.


Now it's time to offer your thoughts.  Please share below what you think about offering critical feedback to those you serve and how you do it effectively.


PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, author of two books (Teach Smart and Building a Cultureof Support), and sought after speaker and consultant specializing in school culture, principal coaching, effective evaluation practices, and student-centered instruction. PJ currently serves as the Superintendent of Schools for Meridian CUSD 223 in Northwest Illinois and can be reached via twitter (@MCUSDSupe).


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