An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Be in contact with the employee during other times. This is especially important for remote employees. When employees and managers are in the office together, there is a natural opportunity for social run-ins — lunch, getting coffee, even passing in the hallway. For remote employees, social run-ins must be preplanned. I firmly believe that managers should be meeting with their teams, individually or as a group, at least weekly. If managers provide feedback regularly, it will be kinder and less frightening for them when constructive feedback comes.
As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Lefkowitz.
Lauren is a Career and Mindset Coach for professionals who want more from life than work, sleep, repeat. With 20 years of human resources management experience, Lauren turned a side-gig in coaching into a full-time business. Lauren’s work focuses on partnering with individuals, small groups and small businesses to support professionals who want to find joy, excitement, challenge and balance in their careers…and still have a personal life to love.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started working in human resources (HR) as my fourth career (yes, you read that right!) during the first three years of my adult work life. After giving meeting planning, accounting, and sales a try, I was tapped on the shoulder inside my company to join the HR team.
I immediately fell in love with knowing my job was to support the people who support the people. In other words, I got to provide the back-end support to employees at all levels so that they could provide support to our products, services and customers. HR is a backbone job, for sure.
I loved my time in HR and especially thrived on the opportunity to support managers and employees in building productive relationships, providing honest feedback, and setting clear expectations.
After a 20-year career in HR and years of side-gigging in various aspects of career coaching, job search training, small business HR consulting, etc., I have recently transitioned to full time coaching, as a Career and Mindset Coach for people who want more from life than work, sleep, repeat.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company, Lauren Lefkowitz Coaching, offers people in the middle of their careers an opportunity to take a breath from their list of things to do, stop, spend time in the mirror, and make conscious decisions about how they want to participate in their own lives. So many people allow their lives to just happen to them. I argue that the opportunity is to happen to their own lives.
I work with clients on speaking up for themselves, setting boundaries, and finding balance and joy. Sometimes this means finding a new job or a new career, but more often, it means acknowledging that they want more than just reacting to work that comes their way — it means taking control and ownership over their lives, and making choices, including in how they approach their jobs.
I might be my own best success story — I hired a coach myself and shifted myself from working 80–100-hour weeks to working 40-hour weeks, creating new hobbies, and building the confidence to follow my dreams. And then I actually got to follow those dreams and take my part-time coaching gig to a full-time business. I’m a better coach for it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In my last HR job, I was joining an organization that had never had an HR function before. They had grown enough know they needed HR, but they weren’t certain exactly why. On my first day, the CEO said to me, “I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do here, but I know we need you.” I responded, “Luckily, I know what to do, so if you set me loose, I’ll take care of everything.” It was such a rewarding opportunity to build a department and function from scratch, show the organization how having an HR department could positively impact employees, and be able to offer both strategic and tactical opportunities for HR impact.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One that wasn’t funny when it happened, but has been funny my whole career since was when I was late to my interview for the job that led to my ultimate career path. I was about four minutes late, and I was hoping they wouldn’t notice (they did). I thought about the whole interview (and no one said anything, so I thought I was in the clear). The interview was great, I was hired, and a few months in, my supervisor mentioned that she had noticed I was late to the interview, but it was such a good interview that she was willing to overlook it. That was the job which led to my HR career, so I am forever grateful for her grace in letting my four-minute delay go. We laughed about it then — and more than 20 years later, it still comes up as a joke between us!
When I moved into HR (and this supervisor became one of my internal clients!), the lesson I took with me was to offer grace to those who were just a bit late, especially if they owned up to it (unlike I did!).
What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Be a human. Your team(s) will respect you for it, appreciate your leadership in showing your humanity, and you’ll be more likeable. Take sick days; go to your kid’s t-ball game or school play; cut out early once in a while and be unavailable for the afternoon. When you’re on vacation, actually be on vacation. This sets the example for your employees that it’s also okay for them to be human, that it’s encouraged for them to have a life outside of work, to take time off, to be out of touch.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership combines the ability to know and share knowledge in a constructive way, to not know and share that with honesty and vulnerability, to partner instead of manage, to lead instead of instruct, to ask instead of demand, to give acknowledgement instead of collect credit.
A leader is someone you recognize as a person you want to emulate in some way.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Others are surprised to learn that I meditate — and I didn’t always. I began practicing meditation about a year ago, ‘practice’ being the key word there! When I first started, I would open one eye every few minutes to see how long I had been doing it. Clearly, that’s not the goal! My first instinct was to quit on it because I didn’t think I could be patient enough to finish a single session, let alone actually be in it.
With time, practice, and learning what kind of meditation serves me best, I now thrive in meditation. I get some of my best ideas while I’m meditating, and I’ve learned for myself that having a notebook nearby and being willing to open both eyes when an idea sparks has helped me come up with some of my best work!
I also learned that meditation helps me sleep more deeply and feel more focused. And sometimes, I still open one eye to see how long I’ve been doing it. I’m a work in progress.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?
The core of my work has been in HR management, but I have also been the manager (or interim manager) for several departments, including finance, marketing, information technology, meeting planning and others. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to manage a diversity of skillsets and personalities. As HR, I also act as an advisor for managers and employees on topics including ‘how to’ conversations about giving positive feedback, constructive feedback, or feedback that immediate improvement is needed. I have also worked with employees on managing up (giving feedback to their own managers), managing a manager who has to give feedback to an employee and more.
This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?
Offering employees honest and direct feedback eliminates assumptions and wonder. It offers employees a sure understanding of where they stand, what is going well, what needs to improve, and ideally, also offers them support and resources for growth and improvement.
Employees who wonder about where they stand may be more self-critical about their work or may be ignoring areas that need improvement.
A great leader offers the balance of both positive and constructive feedback so that employees always understand how things are going, don’t feel surprised at annual review time, and receive feedback in a timely manner so that they can make changes in real time.
One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Technology allows us to communicate with remote employees in much the same way we have communicated in person. With the opportunity to use video, relationships can be built in a richer way than in the past, when phones and email were our only options.
Here are five suggestions about how to give constructive or corrective feedback to a remote (or really any!) employee (https://youtu.be/pzbcdY90dKw)
- Be quick. Do not save up a whole bunch of constructive or corrective feedback and bombard the employee with a list of everything that is going wrong with their work. Let’s imagine a non-work scenario to demonstrate. Saving up your feedback would be like having your partner burn your dinner and you responding with all of the ways they aren’t a good partner. For example, “Joe, dinner is burned, and you forgot to put the clothes in the dryer two weeks ago, and you got us lost in the woods on that vacation six months ago, and you never take out the trash, and your feet smell.” That’s a lot of blowback for one burned dinner!
- Be honest. This seems obvious, but so often, the feedback giver is worried about hurting the employee’s feelings and instead, they only tell half the story about what requires improvement. Or, the manager fixes the problem for the employee so the employee never even knows there was a problem, and then the issue gets repeated. Let’s say an employee sends in Excel spreadsheets weekly, and the work is correct, but the formatting is all wrong. The manager does the formatting himself, becomes resentful that he has extra work on his plate, and the employee never knows a problem exists. This could all be pre-solved by telling the employee the first time it happens that it needs to be corrected.
- Be in contact with the employee during other times. This is especially important for remote employees. When employees and managers are in the office together, there is a natural opportunity for social run-ins — lunch, getting coffee, even passing in the hallway. For remote employees, social run-ins must be preplanned. I firmly believe that managers should be meeting with their teams, individually or as a group, at least weekly. If managers provide feedback regularly, it will be kinder and less frightening for them when constructive feedback comes.
- Be very clear. Make sure the employee knows what requires improvement exactly and also what improvement looks like. This means, “The Excel report you send in every week is not formatted properly. Going forward, the header has to be green with bold print, the columns need to be autofitted, and the links to other sheets must be double checked.” If the feedback is vague, the employee will only know that it’s wrong, but not what to do to make it right.
- Be kind, but don’t sugar coat. Be a kind human being. So simple, but not always easy if you, as the manager, have gotten heat for the employee’s performance or if this is not the first time you’re addressing an issue. You can be strong about the need to improve without demonstrating anger, without humiliating the employee, and with compassion and understanding.
Do not, under any circumstances, use the ‘sandwich method’ to tell someone they need to improve. For those who have not heard of this, when the sandwich method is used, the manager ‘sandwiches’ the negative feedback in between two positive points. For example, “Jim, you’re so nice to work with and everyone here really likes you, but X, Y and Z accounting errors that you are making are costing us money in audit and those need to be fixed immediately, but you’re so great at PowerPoint!” Being kind doesn’t mean softening the feedback or hiding inside a sandwich of niceties. It just means demonstrating compassion and care as you deliver it.
How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
If the feedback is very concrete, as in editing a document or providing feedback on graphics, be very clear in an email about what your changes are/what needs to be improved without adding judgement. For example, “I edited this Word document quite a lot. Please see my tracked changes attached. I’d like to talk about the style of writing for this kind of document in the future so there won’t be so many edits next time.” And not, “I’m pretty sure you wrote this when you were tired, because this is terrible! Let’s talk.” Both ways get the message across, but the first will be more effective in creating positive change and offering yourself as manager as an approachable ally.
More qualitative feedback, such as addressing a behavioral concern or giving a more formal performance warning simply should not be done over email. If this kind of feedback needs to be given, a simple email that reads, “Let’s set up a time to chat about _____.” Or, “I’d like to talk further about the Excel project. Let’s schedule a time.”
In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?
Ideally, managers are having at least weekly meetings with their direct reports (or, for larger teams, at least monthly). If that is the case, feedback, both positive and negative, so it won’t come as a surprise when a regular meeting includes both. This means that on an annual review, employees should not be surprised by any of the feedback they receive because they have been receiving feedback all year. Urgent feedback that requires immediate action should be handled more quickly with an impromptu phone call or video call.
The key indicator here for managers is this: if you are losing sleep over something and dreading giving the feedback, it means you should be giving it now and not waiting until a next scheduled meeting.
How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?
A great boss is a person who brings his/her/their whole self to work. This doesn’t mean your employees need to know every detail of your life. This means when you’re having a bad day, you’re willing to share that you’re having a bad day. This means you are empathetic when an employee is having a hard time. It means you take time to interact when things are going well, when something needs improvement, when you feel like just saying hello. Being a great boss means showing your humanity.
A couple of years ago, I had a freak accident during which I broke both of my shoulders. I was out of work for three months and it took an additional two months for me to be back full time. My boss told me, and meant it, to take care of myself first. He took responsibility for redistributing my work, checked in on me often, and offered an unbelievable amount of flexibility for me when I returned. He was so kind and caring about it, and I knew that my recovery absolutely came first in his mind.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We are given the opportunity to make choices in every moment of every day. How much work we put into work is a choice. How we allow our bosses to treat us is a choice. If we decide to do nothing and simply react to the world around us, we are still making a choice. You are allowed to make the choice to react to your life as it comes or to be proactive and make new choices from a place of power.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My current favorite is, “There is only this moment. And this moment. And this one.” People like me (including me) fill our heads with, “What’s on our calendar? What’s coming up next? What’s after that?” that it’s challenging to stay in the moment. The moments are amazing — the moments are where we share joy, laughter, grief, love. And if we’re always jumping ahead (or reflecting back) we miss the most beautiful moments. This quote, which I can’t attribute to anyone in particular, but which lives in many guided meditations, becomes my mantra when my day or week starts to invade my moments.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am super active on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/llefkowitz. I’m also on Instagram @relaunchyourcareer and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/laurenlefkowitzcoaching. My website is https://www.laurenlefkowitzcoach.com
Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.
Lauren Lefkowitz: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.