Steve, one of the things you talk about in the book that’s really interesting and people don’t think of enough, is the importance of feedback. Tell us more about how it works: why it’s important, how you give it, how you get it.
Steve Head: There’s a few things around feedback … And again, when you raise the point, you mention the word, the first thing I think about is (and this is quite selfish) who would I get feedback off and when do I receive it best. I think there’s a time and a place. The reason I say that is because, if you’re highly emotionally-charged on something, especially when something hasn’t gone really well … it’s all right when you’re in a great mood, most things are good when you’re in a great mood, but if you’ve had a bad experience, messed up on something, I genuinely believe, from evidence from working with people, that most people are their own worst critic. So they already go down that road – well, that was terrible.
When I was a pharmaceutical manager, we use to go on what we called, “Company calls”. So, you’d go in with your rep into the surgery and talk to the doctor to talk whatever the medicine was and you introduce yourself. I would just observe the rep having this conversation and there were certain things you were suppose to say and information you’re suppose to share and it’s all very structured and professional. You come out, and all the way back to the car the first question every manager asks their rep is, “How did you think that went?” That was their first question. They would turn around, inevitably, especially if you knew there were three or four real wobblers in there; they got a price wrong or recorded a statistic wrong, maybe I had to step in and correct it, which is even worse … and they would go, “That was terrible! That was the worst call I’ve done in months! I cannot believe how bad that went!” and they’d give you that, ‘Oh, calm down. It was quite good. It was actually quite good.’
So, I think to be fair, most of us … I think probably that’s bit of a defense mechanism, If I said that was really bad, then I would be getting, treated slightly differently. That’s quite common. That happened all the time. Literally, every day I was with someone, someone would say that before I had a chance to give them any positive constructive feedback. So, I think they were in a bad place. If I had them turn around and said, “There’s three things you definitely could’ve done better there”, the worry for me is (the risk there), they’re already pretty negative and defensive. They’re already pretty low. If you then say, “You could’ve improved.” You’re going to get that, “Wow”. You’re going to get that reaction and you could get a real confrontational thing. We got along quite well. That was manager rep, we get along quite well.
Imagine you don’t like the person giving you the feedback. Imagine if you have no respect for the person giving you the feedback. The feedback could be the most useful information you could ever receive to help you move your life forward, but if you can’t stand the person giving it … I wouldn’t listen. I’d be very happy to sit back and let my life fall apart while this piece of advice go sliding by because I don’t like you. I’d think, ‘What’s your agenda?, Why are you telling me that?, What’s in it for you?’
I think we have to get the environment right. You’ve got to pick your moments. Me? If I do something genuinely … that I know I’ve messed up on, give me a good hour to calm down on it. Don’t give me feedback in that hour because I will reject it, 100 percent. I’m guaranteeing it, I’ll just be in my head. I won’t look like it. I’ll go, “Mmm Hmm, good, good, thank you, good. I’ll get in the car and think, ‘Prat’. Then, hours or days later, I’ll think, “You know what? They’ve got a point there.” Give me time. I think you’ve got to know the person. Ideally, the person giving you feedback … have respect for them, you don’t have to like them but have some respect for them. They’ve got to be in a position to give you that.
That’s the first thing. Be careful about the … And also be careful about the areas you give feedback on. Be very careful about how you attack someone’s character versus behavior, if that makes sense. I can expand on that if you want me to.
Grant Leboff: You can do, for the people watching.
Steve Head: For me, there’s two … This is very simplistic, but there’s two fundamental parts to a human being, in my humble opinion. You’ve got the identity of someone; who you are, who I am, I am Steve Head, I am a speaker, I am a father, I am a … whatever. I’ve got an identity. I’ve got beliefs and values, and they’re very sacred to me. I’ve spent 52 years building them and developing them. That’s my identity. That’s who I am.
Then, there’s all this stuff I do: My presenting, my chatting to you, my driving, my parenting skills, my playing golf, all the things that I spent my life and my capabilities, and the way I’m built. That’s the thing you see. Where I am at any one time. You’ve got these two significant chunks to me.
I’ll give you a quick illustration. When my daughter was very little … I’ve got my son Christopher, that’s two and a half years older … when Anna was very small, she use to … she went through a spell when she was about two, two and a half. She would draw on the walls. Usually, when you just painted them. She thought she was painting them.
There was one day, I went in the downstairs loo, and there was a big blue picture. The size of a football, on a white … brand new painted wall. I looked at it and I thought (sighs). I called my wife in and I said, “Have you seen this?” So we call for Anna, and Anna comes through with her chin … She knew, this was fresh work. She walks in, and I go, “Anna – she’s about two and a half, about this high – and I say what’s that? What’s that on there?” She goes, “It’s a snowman”… and she says “It’s a very good snowman” … And before I had a chance to say a word, (I was going to say, “Don’t draw on the wall”) she says, “Don’t draw on the walls Daddy, draw on paper!” I thought, she even knows, But she’s drawn a very substantial snowman, which by the way, was never going to come off.
Now, this is the moment of truth. Do you say to the little one, “You, are a very, very, very naughty girl. You are a naughty girl. You’re a bad girl.” You could do that, but that’s attacking them, right? Or you could say, “I love you, Sweetheart. You’re my gorgeous little princess, but you’ve done a really, really daft thing. Drawing on walls is not ideal. Drawing on walls is actually quite a bad thing. Drawing on walls is going to cost us work and effort, but you’re okay.” There’s a big difference between the two. The first one says, ‘You’re bad, and you’ve done a bad thing’. The second one says, ‘You’re okay, you’ve just done a bad thing’. When we’re adults, there’s no difference.
If I may, I speak for a living, so I go to a conference, if somebody says, “You, Steve Head, are the worst presenter I’ve ever seen. I don’t like Steve Head. I think you’re horrible, I think you’re a bad presenter.” That’s quite hurtful. I get … By the way, in the first hour, I might not even listen, right? But, if somebody came up to me and said, “Hi Steve. You seem like a decent guy, you’ve got a good sense of humour … One or two of the things you said today in your presentation, I didn’t fully agree with.” I was fully offended by it, or upset me. Then, we’ve got a conversation. I’m still going to be upset, because it’s still my material, but it’s much easier to take when they say, “You’re okay, I just didn’t like what you did.” I can handle that much, much easier. I’m much less agitated when I get feedback like that. “You’re very, very messy, but you’re okay. I’m loving you, I just don’t like the mess you leave.” Different thing. That, to me, is the secret of feedback. If you can get those two things separate, you’re more likely to have people … You’re still going to find tough feedback tough, right? That’s just life. If somebody says something critical; not easy, but if somebody says it in a way that’s positioned away from you and leaves you then intact, That, to me is the secret of great feedback.
Grant Leboff: How important is it for someone to actually encourage feedback? In terms of your own personal life, because you can walk around, especially if you’re self-employed or whatever else, avoiding it most of the time. So, where’s the balance between obviously, getting on with life and doing what you need to do but also inviting feedback? When should you invite it? Should you invite it?
Steve Head: Yeah, I think you should. I think you’ve got to set a … coming back to self-employed, when I left the corporate world, one of the things you miss is structured feedback sessions because you get appraisals and you get reviews. This actually, in pharmaceuticals, it was quite … it was brilliantly well done, I thought, and in hindsight, didn’t know how lucky we were. There was always somebody; a coach, a mentor, or a manager who can keep you guided and supported. I had good relationships with a lot of people.
I set my own business up, and suddenly, none of that. I haven’t got a corridor conversations anymore, you haven’t got any of that. In my business, we set up what’s called, “Mastermind groups”, which is basically like … I call them dream teams, but basically, a Mastermind group is like-minded people in my case, similar industry. I’ve got Chris Akabusi, and a lady called Jane Gunner, who’s a lawyer, she’s great. She does mediation. Chris is Chris; amazing, does his speaking, all sorts of amazing stuff. We sit together once every three months and literally chuck everything on the table and go, “Help me here.” There’s a tremendous amount of trust coming back to who you share it with. When Chris looks at me and goes, “Well, that’s crazy”, I don’t get agitated, because we know it comes from a really good place.
We proactively sit together, we give a day up and we sit together three or four times a year to make sure that we are constantly being supported. That has been massively influential in how my business has grown, what I’ve done, and the amount of work I take on … Because you blindside your own self. I was doing like 140 events a year, which sounds all very lovely. It makes me a living and it’s nice, but … It doesn’t include traveling, that’s getting you all over the place. You’re off to Manchester, you’re all over the place. You find it and you sit there and you’re doing 140 events a year. Your ‘friends’ go, “Oh wow, that’s… well done, you, well done you.
Chris and Jane go, “Not good. This is unsustainable, the way you’re performing at the moment. Have you any idea what you’re doing to yourself?” And you go, “What?”, and you get a bit defensive, I’m doing really well. No hold on, how long can you keep that going for?
Without that feedback, you do 150 events, 160 events, 170 events, and one day I’ll eventually either blow a gasket, or I’ll have a heart attack or something. I’m not saying I won’t do it anyway, but they’re holding a mirror up to you and going, “Steve, have a good look.”
I think you need to proactively create that environment and if it doesn’t exist in your business … if you’re working in an SME or a corporate, you need to set it up. Obviously, I had the choice; who I wanted to work with. It may be a bit different in corporate where you might have a culture, someone inflicted upon you which you may not necessarily like. Arguably, if you can get people you respect, it’s huge. I would say, critical success factor for most people.
Bare in mind, in sport, there’s professional sports person alive – I used this in my very first speech actually, at PSA – I said, put your hand up if you’ve got a coach. I know it’s slightly different in terms of feedback but the idea was having somebody you can work with and improve your performance. Three people in the room said they had coaches … and there was 100 people in the room. Yet, if you ask any athlete, “Do you want a coach and how often do you want to work with them?”, they’ll say, “Yes please, everyday” … Somebody you can stand, watch, video, critic, advise, support, encourage. Without that level of input – good and bad – how would you optimize your performance?
I would set up a framework, somehow, in your world, where you get that on tap.
There may be small changes to the spoken word in this transcript in order to facilitate the readability of the written English