My father was dying.
It seemed like a good enough reason to not attend.
On the surface it sounded valid enough but if I were to be honest with myself, it was an excuse. A good excuse but an excuse none the less.
It was my last year of university and I was part of a student organization of Peer Advisors. We counseled fellow students on everything from stress management to cross-dressing.
The meeting, from which I was “excusing” myself this day was a review process of sorts. It was an opportunity for Peers to report on their volunteer Peer Placement. You see, two precious souls entrusted their semester to me in the “Peer Promotions Placement”, a function I developed to express my own creative promotional ideas in service of the organization. The two team members who joined me in my quest were talented creatives able to bring my lofty visions to pen-and-paint-on-paper reality.
Leading up to the event, my team was not oozing confidence. They seemed confused on what to report. They looked to me for direction as their leader but I pushed back. They’d known about the meeting for months and on some level I was annoyed with their lack of initiative.
I left them to figure it out and sent them off to the meeting without me.
Looking back, I must have known instinctually that something was about to hit the fan but I still wasn’t quite ready for what went down.
Some People Are Born Leaders. Apparently, I was not.
“She treats us like TRAINED MONKEYS!!!”
That’s a direct quote, conveyed to me by the Peer Coordinator in the aftermath of my missed meeting.
This comment was but a highlight in the litany of criticism they shelled out in my absence. I was shocked, shamed and hurt, but to their credit, to this very day I have not heard micromanagement described more colorfully.
With the school year almost over and my father’s death a throbbing daily ache it was easy to plead ignorance, avoid the whole situation and miss the lesson. But as with all essential life lessons, this one was going to keep coming at me until I got it.
Feedback delivered – Response: Avoidance
12 months later I found myself once again called into the office. I was one of a dozen youth employment agents, who matched students with summer employment.
Sitting across from my boss, Doris delivered her message fast and hard without preamble.
“Joelle. EVERYONE is complaining about you. You are REALLY ABRASIVE.”
My reaction was a one two punch of defense and resentment followed by justification and a healthy dose of righteousness thrown in for good measure.
I rationalized that “everyone” was clearly an unnecessarily dramatic overstatement and I was sure the whole thing was related to a particularly blatant display of incompetence from my fellows regarding the PROPER and AGREED UPON placement of the ever-important client file paperclip (SIDE, NOT TOP! When were they going to get that strait?!)
Feedback Delivered – Response: Justification
Next stop, Manpower.
It was a couple years into my employment as a branch manager with Manpower Inc. and whether it was out of a desire for growth or a hunger for success, I had begun to seek out opportunities for development.
I learned all “7 Habits”, I was quick to throw out a deserved “Whale Done!” and I rallied my team to create “Raving Fans”.
Despite all my hard work. I ended up in the office yet again! Actually, more specifically, my staff member, Anna, came to my office, and she had news to deliver.
She was there as an ambassador of the team. She had come to tell me that they felt I was disengaged and distant and that I was not leading them.
She had me. It was true. I had been avoiding and hiding out.
Thanks to Anna’s act of faith and courage the feedback was delivered and I got back to the business of being the leader that I was committed to being.
Feedback Delivered – Response: Action
Fast forward to 2004, I was running a branch in Tempe, AZ and I was on an active quest for great leadership, effective communication and professional satisfaction. I had received my coaching certification and every interaction with a team member, coworker or client was a place for service, an opportunity for growth and a chance to live more fully as “a fearless leader igniting the sparkle in people’s eyes.”
I was having lots of meetings in my office those days, but these meetings had a slightly different tone.
As one team member Heather was promoted to a higher-paying position in another division she had some feedback to convey.
“I really mean it when I say that the hardest part of leaving was to know that you were not going with me. Thank you for making me feel I can reach my full potential and that I should never stop pushing myself to be the best I can be.”
And my co-worker Brenda had a few choice words herself as she was on her way out the door, promoted to the onsite position she had actively pursued and won.
“Joelle is by far the most personable, vivacious, understanding and knowledgeable manager. She has always made a fun work environment, she is excellent with people and has a wonderful, true caring personality.” (Take THAT Doris!)
Feedback Delivered – Response: Do the happy dance!
Even reading this today I am a little in awe at how far I have come.
I share this journey with you for a couple of reasons.
1) First of all, I have always wanted to share the “trained monkeys” story, it was so absolutely brutal to receive at an already devastating time in my life but it is a part of my story and in the telling of it I cracked myself up and hopefully helped you realize that no case is hopeless.
2) Secondly I want to demonstrate how we all start somewhere. Whatever feedback you are getting now in your life, consider it a gift, something to help you grow.
And remember, if you don’t get the lesson the first time, don’t worry, it will come around to hit you upside the head again sooner or later (at this point in our lives my friends and I have made it a habit to get the message when it is a tap on the shoulder instead of waiting until it is a brick flying at your head.)
3) Finally, as I look back at my personal path from controlling, abrasive and avoidant to fearless and loving leader, I see it as an example of our capacity to grow in the direction of our desires.
I never wanted to be a jerk boss or a freakishly annoying coworker – I just didn’t know how to do any different. The feedback received along the way gave me an awareness of how I was showing up in the world and with that awareness came the opportunity to make a new choice; a choice to adjust, to learn, to seek my inner leader, grow into a higher version of myself and reap the rewards.
The idea of feedback being a gift was first presented to me by Jim W. an internal trainer at Manpower. This one idea radically changed the exchange of information in our office and opened the door to a world of growth.
Whether it’s a direct message a la “trained monkey’s” or more subtle like the whole family secretly feeding your casserole to the dog, take a deep breath, and remember, feedback is a gift if you dare to receive and unwrap.
May all your feedback come to you from a place of love and generosity and may you have the strength and courage to find the lesson before the bricks start flying.
P.S. Is there one particularly eye-opening piece of feedback you have received that helped you course correct? We'd love to hear about it. Share it in the comments below.