Organizational Sandpaper and becoming a better leader

Being 53 years of age is both a positive and a negative thing.  The negatives are sometimes less obvious than they might seem.  Many things that I used to take for granted, like flexibility and good health, are not givens without great effort and the physical part of my existence, while not a huge challenge, becomes more of a maintenance issues as the years go by.  Nothing chronic, just the passing of time causes issues to occur that would have never come up in earlier years.

The better part of 53 is the learning and experience I have had in the many roles and projects I have had the opportunity to work on.  I have been extremely fortunate to experience some unique and wonderful opportunities such as working in countries other than the USA and also getting to work in multiple industries.  This diversity of experiences has only enriched me and increased my wisdom.  I will not get into a taxonomy of wisdom versus knowledge, but only experience can help someone gain wisdom and I value wisdom much more than  knowledge, especially at this juncture.

While I have gained from all of my collective experiences, I can also say that some of them have provided challenges and feedback that at first I did not care to hear.  All of us gain from feedback if it is provided with the intent to help one improve, and some of the best feedback I have gotten had a “sting” to it at first.  I call this kind of feedback “organizational sandpaper” and it is the the topic of my post today.

What do you think of when you see or think of sandpaper?  I think of a substance that is gritty and its main purpose is to remove something that is in the way or not needed.  In much the same way, feedback is “organizational sandpaper” for the person you are giving it to.  All of us have mannerism or behaviors that are detrimental to our success and one of the best gifts we can receive from a peer, superior or direct report is that rub that comes from feedback.  Just as sandpaper can be abrasive when it comes into contact with a surface, feedback has the same effect.  We may not feel great after that first surface is rubbed, that first layer is removed, but as the healing starts to occur and we reflect on what we have learned, we see that the new person has the potential to be a better fit with those around us.

Sandpaper has many types, known as grit, and the more substance to be removed, the smaller the number.  So too is feedback, with some circumstances requiring a large dose of reality while others may be a simple conversation that only stings for a short while.

The next time you decide to meet with someone to give them feedback, think about what “grit” you need to use.  Too much might cause a lasting impression that cannot be repaired while too little will only result in another episode where we rub off a little more to get to just the right fit.

Feedback is much like carpentry.  The intent is to help build and mold others into something that will stand strong and protect and represent well.  Be careful how you design and build others, especially yourself.  Those without a plan will fail, for you will know not what your goal is.   Never go into a feedback session without a specific goal because you’ll never know when to stop.

As you move ahead in your role of crafting and shaping others, always consider what you can provide to help better shape others, while considering what others are doing to help shape you.  You will never know when a little “organizational sandpaper” might make you or someone else a much better fit.