Valuing Vulnerability (#152)

Two weeks ago, we held our AP Summit, an all-company annual retreat. Our theme for the week centered around Embracing Relationships, which is one of our company’s core values.

A big part of embracing relationships is the willingness to be vulnerable. In business, this typically shows up in the form of being open to radical candor and new ideas, stepping outside of comfort zones and being transparent about mistakes and shortcomings.

When team members are vulnerable with each other, it builds trust. In turn, they’re more comfortable and confident about being open with their questions, sharing new ideas, debating and discussing challenges and expressing differences of opinion, all of which allows for stronger team performance.

As researcher Brenè Brown explains, vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.

Our opening speaker at our AP Summit is an inspiring example of how vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness, especially in leadership. JT McCormick, the CEO of Scribe Media and author of I Got There, openly shared how he overcame racism, poverty, neglect and heartbreaking sexual and physical abuse to achieve the American Dream. His talk was so emotional, raw and powerful that it brought many to tears.

JT was followed by Eric Kapitulik, founder of The Program, a leadership and team-building training company. Prior to starting The Program, Eric served in the United States Marine Corps as both an Infantry and Special Operations Officer. Eric opened by sharing a story about how he and his platoon were in a helicopter crash that resulted in the death of seven Marines.

After sharing his story and some of his life experience since that harrowing day, Eric and his team led our employees outdoors to a large field where it was raining, muddy and cold. Teams were put through various leadership drills and missions. And when we failed, we had to do push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and other physical “consequences,” all surrounded by swampy puddles and goose droppings.

Sounds terrible, right? Yet, I didn’t hear a single complaint. Having just heard these stories and knowing that we could all shower, change into clean clothes and be comfortable again, there was a tremendous sense of gratitude and camaraderie. In fact, most people ranked this training as a highlight of their week and year.

Both of these presentations and experiences opened new conversations and brought transparency between team members to new levels.

Knowing how important strong relationships are to our happiness and health, in advance of AP Summit, I asked employees to send to me five relationships that they’d like to start, grow or rekindle. Many of the responses were very personal. The most common themes were “spouse,” “myself,” “parent,” “grandparents,” “out-of-touch friend,” “sibling,” and “relative I’ve never met.”

Then, at our closing dinner, our culture team surprised several employees by informing them that their Embrace Relationship submission had been selected to become a reality.

Shortly after the presentation, other team members came up to those employees, embraced them and shared something with them that they hadn’t before, at least not in a professional context. This willingness to connect vulnerably created further increased trust, respect and understanding in ways that might not have been possible otherwise.

It was an unforgettable moment and one that I have no doubt will lead to much individual and team success and a new appreciation of what it means to share your authentic self with others.

Quote of the Week

 “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown



The post Valuing Vulnerability (#152) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Praise and Criticism (#125)

In her first major leadership role at Google, Kim Scott and her then boss, Sheryl Sandberg met with the founders and CEO to present the results from a campaign Kim and her team developed. The numbers were so remarkable, CEO Eric Schmitt almost fell off his chair in disbelief and then peppered her with questions about how they could best support her team.

Understandably, she emerged from the meeting feeling really good about herself and how it had gone.

On her walk back to her office, Sandberg praised Kim and told her the things she had done well in the presentation. She also noted that Kim used the filler “ummm” a lot and asked her if she was aware of that. Kim brushed it off a few times as a verbal tick to which Sandberg responded by looking her right in the eye and saying, “Kim, when you say ‘ummm’ every third word, it makes you sound insecure and stupid.”

Now, Sandberg had Kim’s attention.

While some would say this feedback was harsh, Kim would disagree. Sandberg did not say that Kim was stupid, she said using “ummm” too often made her sound stupid and undermined her credibility and intelligence.

The way in which Sandberg gave Kim this feedback was both caring and direct, a term that Kim went on to coin “radical candor.” Kim knew that Sandberg genuinely cared about her and that her feedback was coming from a place of wanting to help her excel and improve; it was not a personal attack.

Kim took Sandberg’s advice, went on to work with a speech coach and is now a sought-after keynote speaker and author of the bestselling book Radical Candor—The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss.

She also started a company that helps leaders and companies implement Radical Candor in their organization through talks, workshops, and coaching.

And Sandberg, of course, went on to become COO of Facebook.

I was reminded of Kim’s story when I read a recent ESPN article about Boston Celtics coach, Brad Stevens. Despite losing their two best players, the Celtics are playing strong through the playoffs and Stevens is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best coaches in professional sports today. Here’s how the ESPN writer describes how he addresses player mistakes:

“In evaluating players, both during games and in film sessions, Stevens is careful with language, according to coaches, players and team higher-ups. He focuses on actions: We didn’t get this rebound. You should have made this rotation earlier. The criticism is never about the player’s character. No one is labeled lazy or stupid or selfish. Stevens simply describes what did or did not happen, and what should happen next time.”

The purpose of feedback should always be for the receiver to get better—not for the giver to feel better.  Too often, we fail to give our employees, friends and family the feedback that they need to hear because we are afraid to have the tough conversion.

If you aren’t meeting this standard, then you are likely falling into one of the other three feedback quadrants that Kim outlines in her book and her training: Obnoxious Aggression, Ruinous Empathy or Manipulative Insincerity. Each have major downfalls.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to sit down with Kim Scott on the Outperform Podcast to hear her story and learn more about how we should both give and receive candid feedback. You can listen to the episode here.


Quote of the Week

“The purpose of criticism is to help others improve. The purpose of praise is to help others know what keep doing more of.”

Kim Scott



The post Praise and Criticism (#125) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Playing it Safe (#96)

Last week, I wrote about how having the freedom to fail is an integral part of growth and how many parents are failing this test. In response to last week’s post, a friend sent me an article titled, “The Fragile Generation.” The author opens with an anecdote of a teen boy who was chopping some wood to make a fort with his friends. An onlooker notified the police who arrived at the scene and “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

The author writes, “We told a generation of kids that they can never be too safe—and they believed us.”

This need to be “safe” has evolved part and parcel with the explosion of the internet and social media.  Many of the things that have a very low probability of bringing us harm are sensationalized online and in the news; because we see it happening on the internet and how horrible it is, we start to question our safety. For example, the leading cause of death in the US is an unhealthy diet, not any of the things we read about in the news. Yet … we aren’t blocking the doors to McDonalds.

Our inclination to seek “safety” removes a degree of risk-taking in our lives that is necessary for getting us out of our comfort zone, such as travelling to new places, trying new foods and interacting with people of different background and beliefs.

Our physical need for safety has also evolved into an emotional need. This comes at a very high price.

One emotional cost is that more and more people today are delaying – or altogether missing – adult milestones; landmarks that come with a certain degree of risk, such as buying a home/living on their own, getting married or having kids.

If we try to ensure that we, or those we love, will never get physically or emotionally hurt, it’s unlikely that we’ll lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.

This is a big problem; one that is not easily solved. That being said, I believe one area where we can all start to be more growth-minded and a little less safe is in our communication and feedback. Often, we don’t say what we really mean. It’s either safer not to or it helps us (or the recipient) maintain the status quo.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across around feedback is from Kim Scott’s new book, Radical CandorBe a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Radical Candor, she argues, should be the default form of both personal and professional feedback.

One of the quadrants in the Radical Candor graph that gets less attention, but is often our automatic form of commutation, is “Ruinous Empathy.” This is when you care about the other person and their perspective, but you don’t tell them what they really need to hear, which is likely to be a tough message and/or the truth as you will see in this sample video.

According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy comes from our desire to try and control other people’s feelings, something we should not and cannot do. While it may come from a good place, it is also a misplaced, misguided effort. It’s about being safe.

This week, let’s encourage open and vulnerable communication. We may get our knees skinned – we maybe even get rejected outright — but at least we’re living authentically, growing and working toward empowering ourselves and others.

Quote of the Week

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

John A. Shedd

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