I was staggered recently to see a news article entitledJoe Biden isn’t exciting’.  I read past this headline to discover the article claimed it was a good thing he wasn’t.

When we promote extremes – exciting versus not exciting – we fixate on the binary, and extremism results.  Yet, so many still expect our leaders to be exciting.  When we focus narrowly on personality we shackle leaders to their egos and we to adoration of them.

 In The CEO Magazine Global I wrote about my hope that we stop promoting misleading caricatures that limit what we expect from leaders.

The task of the true leader is to lead across contradiction and paradox, to face the dilemmas that thrive within the rich mix of our humanity, to guide us to reconcile our differences, to make sense of paradox and help reconcile our differences to meet our varying needs. 

We need to

  • Stop asking our leaders for quick fixes
  • Embrace conflicting views to identify better options
  • Stop expecting leaders to be ’in control’
  • Stop expecting leaders to be exciting!

This ongoing focus on exciting, charismatic, masculine styles of leading means that we over-promote men, and under-promote capable women. One way to change that is to change the feedback that women are provided.

How to make sure women get more actionable feedback

There is continuing bias in many aspects of male versus female leadership. Let’s talk about one critical area: feedback.

Even where men and women are assessed as having the same leadership capability, men receive higher ratings for performance and potential.  Women receive less feedback, even though they are more likely to adapt their behaviour.

According to Jack Zenger & Joe Folkman, 360 data shows that we rate women the better leaders.

Research by Elena Doldor, Madeleine Wyatt and Jo Silvester shows significant differences in the kind of feedback men and women are given.

Men are encouraged to:

  • Set the vision
  • Leverage politics
  • Claim their space
  • Display more confidence

Women are encouraged to:

  • Focus on delivery
  • Cope with politics
  • Get along
  • Be more confident

It isn’t a competition – that gets us nowhere, but a better balance would be welcome.  And as the researchers point out, there are good intentions behind the feedback – yet you still get bias.

Subtle, yet powerful.

This article also shows that women receive less feedback, and this article discusses women’s greater likelihood of acting on feedback.

So, to rebalance feedback, here are some tips on how to improve yours, from Therese Huston’s ‘Let’s talk: make effective feedback your superpower’:

 Start by asking questions (How did x go?)

  • Offer appreciation before criticism
  • State your good intentions
  • Contrast to clarify (It’s this, not that)
  • Have the person state their takeaways

Turn feedback into a superpower AND make a great contribution to growing leaders who may or may not be exciting, but who will definitely be capable and effective.

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