The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Recap: "Leadership, Personal Development, and the Feedback Cycle" with Betsy Winslow '83

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This ongoing series explores sessions of the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows (RLF) program. RLF provides fellows with resources in leadership theories and practical skills. Selected their Junior Spring, these Seniors take part in the workshops, dinner discussions, and team-building exercises as they gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities necessary for leaders and successful leadership styles.

Betsy Winslow ‘83, of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, conducted the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows’ third session this year, expertly linking leadership theory to the practical considerations of a leader giving feedback. She began by walking us through four theoretical lenses used to evaluate and improve leadership: personal excellence, situational and contingency theory, motivating and developing people, and achieving results. As we moved from theory to practice, we began to emphasize the latter two lenses.

The 2014-2015 Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, Photo by Thanh V. Nguyen

In order to develop people and eventually achieve results, leaders must give useful and elegant feedback to their followers. Though feedback occurs informally just as often, if not more often, than it does formally, we role played perhaps the most ubiquitous instance of formal feedback, employee reviews, to further explore the paths and obstacles to giving effective feedback. Going into a performance review as a supervisor, one must remember that one’s employee is likely to mishear or misunderstand negative feedback. Cognitive dissonance develops when an employee hears that the quality of her or his performance is not viewed as favorably the employee expected it to be. This cognitive dissonance, in turn, causes an employee to become psychologically defensive and to stop listening, even if considerable positive feedback is given in conjunction with the negative.One duty of leaders, however, is to develop followers’ competencies, and constructive feedback is essential to the process. How then does a leader achieve that goal? A leader can begin to avoid some of the hurdles of feedback giving by focusing on the follower’s observed behavior rather than speculating about the intentions of the follower. The feedback should be about a recent occurrence, but the leader should be careful to consider the follower’s readiness to receive feedback. Perhaps most importantly, the feedback giver should expect and predict the problems that will arise from dissonance. Feedback receivers can aid in their own development and make the leader’s job easier by attempting to remain objective while listening, asking questions to clarify any problems, and thanking the provider for helping him or her to improve. Ultimately, as many fellows observed, both leaders and followers need to remain flexible, critical thinkers. We thank Professor Winslow for guiding us through this vital component of leadership, and for giving us a framework to evaluate our own performance.

-Written by John Howard '15, 2014-2015 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow

Betsy Winslow spent seven years prior to her work at Tuck as first an Assistant Director and then an Associate Director in the undergraduate admissions office at Dartmouth College, where she was responsible for hiring and training new admissions officers, organizing staff development activities, acting as a liaison for all alumni volunteers, and representing the admissions office on the Committee on Standards. Winslow completed her undergraduate work at Dartmouth College, graduating with a degree in English in 1983. She completed her Masters in Education and her Doctorate in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in June of 2004 with a focus on Administration, Planning and Social Policy. Winslow holds a faculty appointment at the Tuck School as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Business Administration and teaches a course called "Comparative Models of Leadership."

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