Feedback continuum over Binary judgment

Almost everything in life lies on a continuum … not in binary states. For example: it’s a simplification to say that you’re either introverted or extroverted. More sophisticated Myers Briggs tests (and others) will give you an indication of the degree to which you favor one end or another of a dimension. For example: I’m slightly extroverted, but I’m off the charts with my “N” and “T” – the second and third dimensions in Myers Briggs.

Employee performance, similarly, is not binary. And it’s not a one-dimensional continuum, like Myers Briggs dimensions. We’re all good at some things and not so good at others. I’m better thinking out of the box than being put in a box. It doesn’t mean I can’t function in a box – just that I’m not as capable or satisfied there.

Another example: there are not good cooks and bad cooks. There is a continuum of skill on which we fall. And some are great a grilling, but not good in the kitchen. It can be a multi-dimensional continuum.

“Are you agile?” is not as good a question as “To what extent to you embrace and live the values/principles of the agile manifesto?”

I’ve seen leaders judge people, throughout my career, based on a binary judgment of personnel. You’re a hero, or you suck. Some of the <slightly> more sophisticated define (but don’t discuss) a middle ground: “I’ll tolerate you”.

When I say “leader” – I don’t limit this to anointed leaders. Many are leaders on their teams in different ways – in spirit.

Some leaders make these binary judgments, don’t share them with the person in question, and make significant career decisions (or provide significant input to decision-makers) for these targets without their knowledge or feedback. Or they provide the feedback to the target (usually electronically) in an abrasive, accusatory, judgmental way. I’ve seen all of these throughout my career.

Great leaders don’t sit back in their chairs, fold their arms, and judge from a distance. They leverage their colleagues’ strengths and coach them through their weaknesses. Sadly, I find that the art of coaching and constructive feedback to be on the wane.

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