Course Corrections Assist in Reaching the Destination Safely

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There is a great deal of attention given to the terms “formative assessments” and “summative assessments” in education circles. “Feedback” is sometimes substituted for “assessment,” but the principle doesn’t change.

Let me illustrate with something familiar to most of us. When we fly from airport A to airport B, we note that the pilot gets us there safely and mostly on time, which we appreciate. Our recognition of the pilot’s achievement is the summative feedback: we are grading his overall performance based on the end result.

We are not frequently aware that even on the short flights, the pilot is continually changing course: adjusting the altitude or the direction of the plane. The plane commonly veers off course due to atmospheric conditions, but based on feedback from instruments, the co-pilot and air traffic control, the pilot brings the plane back on course and lands it safely.

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We don’t berate the pilot because he deviated from his planned course a dozen times or more; we praise him because he made corrections and got us to our collective destination. This is formative feedback: the intermediate evaluations that individually are low-stakes evaluations, but together, they produce a significant result.

 

In many organizations, an annual review is customary. In some of those organizations, this may be the only assessment that an employee receives from his leader. What a shock it can be to feel that one is on course all year, only to find that a five-degree course deviation eight months ago led to being significantly off course. Now a major correction is needed (unless a crash has already occurred) in order to return back to the planned path. Had intermediate feedback been given early on, the correction would have been more comfortable and less noticeable.

How can a leader give a beneficial formative assessment?

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The core of formative feedback for the employee consists of three elements, which can be expressed in three questions:

  1. Where are you right now?

The employee must have a sense of his destination. Expectations should be clarified, as well as checkpoints.

  1. Where do you need to be right now?

As above, if clear expectations are given, the employee should already know if he or she is off course.

  1. How can you (or we) close the gap between the two?

Very often an individual readily recognizes that he or she is off course, but has no idea how to return to the planned path, or must be encouraged to make the correction. This may be the good leader’s most important task!

 

The desired assessment should occur at three levels:

  1. Self-assessment

The leader should empower the employee with the necessary tools and training to self-evaluate. I previously wrote about the Dunning Kruger Effect, which describes the need for an individual to reach a certain level of knowledge and skill in order to properly evaluate their own performance (or others’ performance).

If the leader doesn’t recognize this, then he is failing as a leader. We cannot expect excellence if we do not train for it.

  1. Peer assessment

In team efforts, the employee should be able to turn to a colleague for a meaningful formative assessment. Again, this requires that both individuals have the necessary tools. Empowering the team is particularly critical to the success of peer assessments. They must know that this is acceptable. In a sense, this empowerment is a delegation of authority to all involved, and relieves the leader/manager of a portion of his burden.

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  1. Leader (manager) assessment

Finally, the leader assesses. If the team has a proper understanding of the tasks being evaluated and the intended results, this assessment will confirm the judgment of the individual and their peers. This can be a powerful morale builder for everyone. It also becomes a checkpoint for the leader to assess his efficacy in directing the project.

 

Of course, all of this necessitates that the leader have a presence among his team. The principle of MBWA (management by walking around) lends itself well to providing formative feedback. If a leader remains isolated and doesn’t offer correction until disaster strikes, then trust, confidence and morale will be undermined.

I am not suggesting that the leader micromanage. This is not desirable. But the leader should train, empower and monitor personally in order to see that his team reaches their desired destination; that they achieve their individual, team and organizational goals.

 

A good leader will provide frequent navigational assistance to his team because he wants to see them reach their destination safely.

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Your Leadership Compass

I am of the opinion that the presidential election process goes on far too long. But that is not the topic of these posts.

As I listened to the discussions about the “debates,” it occurred to me that there are two questions I would like to ask each candidate. First: “Who are you?” “Do you have a sense of identity?” “What is it that makes you tick?” “Who is the real you?” And second, “Do you understand and intend to support and live by the bylaws of the organization (i.e. the Constitution of the United States of America)?” “How have you demonstrated that support up to this moment?”

Since these are two very distinct topics, I propose to address them separately. This will deal with first questions. The second, To Form a More Perfect Union?, will follow in the next few days.

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A good leader has a sense of identity. That identity is a rock-solid foundation for the leader’s thoughts and actions.

Skilled mariners, both in sea and in sky, learn to chart a course using map and compass and other important instruments. They learn to find true north to guide them in their journey, and they learn to rely on other landmarks as well.

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In a similar fashion, a leader should know how to find his way, even in the midst of storms and chaos. If a leader has no sense of his true direction, he will be unable to chart a course that will lead his organization to safety. Without that sense of direction, he will simply be at the mercy of the winds and currents, driven by external forces.

In a ship, this loss of direction usually leads to disaster. It is no different in an organization that has lost its way.

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If a leader wants to be able to guide his team through the storms that organizations and businesses will inevitably encounter, he must have a true north, an undeviating set of principles and values to direct him. When times are tough, the leader’s internal compass or GPS must be able to detect that true north consistently.

This holds true for all leaders, whether they are leading a small business, a large corporation, a volunteer organization, family, or a nation. It is impossible to stand firm if one does not know where he stands. True leadership must begin with a firm, reliable foundation.

So I would ask each of the presidential candidates to give me a straight answer. What are the undeviating principles that you have built your life on? Can you define them? Are you true to them? Will you continue to be true to them?

My guess is that few of them can give a direct answer to such questions. If that is the case, they are unfit to lead on any level. If one cannot provide a straight answer to questions about character, it would be unrealistic to expect straight leadership.

A good leader has a fixed, constant guiding star, and knows how to navigate by it.

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A Culture of Negativity?

What kind of culture do you intend to create as a leader? This is a pivotal question, not just for the new leader, but for all leaders to ponder. As a part of the strategizing process, it is a question that should be carefully considered.

Do you just want to let nature take its course? It’s your call.

Do you want to create a culture of collaboration and friendly competition? Great!

Do you want to ramp it up beyond that? Fine.

It is up to you to determine the course. If you do not, it could easily go in the wrong direction.

Can you accurately describe to your team why this is important to them? And to you?

What will you do to nurture that kind of culture?

Will your attitudes and actions not just reflect but model your plans?

The pilot who files a flight plan does not simply fly from point A to point B. Frequent course corrections are required to compensate for wind, weather and natural obstacles. In a large plane, a copilot and frequently a navigator assist in these corrections.

In the same way, a good leader must also consistently make course corrections with his team.

How will you make these corrections?

Do you want a culture of negativity in your organization?

Look to the pilot and his team as they navigate along their flight path.

Except in notably rare occasions, they function well as a team in keeping the plane on course. The co-pilot points out potential obstacles or weather formations that should be avoided. They assist each other in making decisions to keep on course. When the plane drifts off course, as it will, they do not berate each other; they simply identify and execute the needed corrections and get back on the intended course.

In a culture of negativity, the focus changes. The vision of the destination becomes obscured as everyone looks at what was done instead of what will be done. It is impossible to stay on course while focusing on where you’ve been.

Negativity always impedes forward progress.

Leaders, are you encouraging a negative or a positive culture?

Is a course correction needed to get you to your intended destination?

You are the pilot; take the stick.