More Heart. Less Head. Making Feedback Matter.

The best insights are often stumbled upon. Like happiness, such insights are just naturally-occurring by-products of being curious. Curiosity and courage, coupled with humility, are the root soft skills of successful innovators. You need to be open and vulnerable to excel. In that spirit, professional feedback and performance reviews could be more human and humanizing. Here’s my stumble.

Background: I was working on a now-aborted book project about human-centered innovation in education. To get to the essence of what we learn, what sticks, and what matters, I asked my three oldest children an in-depth question:

“I have a question for you and I want you to honor it with your deepest, most authentic response. I am working on a project about the nature of learning and influence, so this fundamental question arose:

What is the most important thing you learned from me, either directly or indirectly?

Your response would be helpful on many levels. Please write from the heart.”

All three responded within a day. Here are a few snapshots of their responses:

Eldest: “I directly learned the importance of being socially tactful and intelligent. I indirectly learned the importance of expressing love, compassionate emotions.”

Second oldest: “I have been thinking about this on and off all day and many obvious things came up… like to be kind and to love the earth and live in the moment, etc. but when I think of you and you as a father I have so many memories of watching you look at people, I never saw anyone else really look at people the way you do. You look with your soul coming through your eyes. I think that all of your children all do this gaze and we picked it up from you. You look at people with passion and show emotion and love through those gazes. It’s a very special gaze; you capture people with it and let them know that you are listening.”

Third child: “You taught me how to filter life. You raised me to think. One of the most important things you instilled in me is the permanent ‘soft distrust’ of accepted norms, be it stuff like cultural ideologies or positions of power. Not that you taught me to be a rebel without a cause, rather that often the positions of power are not implicitly synonymous with the truth. That, and a sense of humor is often the best thing to employ in times of stress / in pursuit of resolve.”

Insight: I didn’t realize what I gift I had asked for, whatever their honest answers may have been. They provided a treasure for life. So, why not ask employees what they’ve learned from each other at the deepest levels?

We spend so much of our lives at work. Can’t we use our peers, leaders, and those who report to us as mirrors of what legacy we leave behind, of what gets really learned and valued?

Instead of thinking about superficial skills and tepid milestones, can’t we find a way to make feedback really matter?