An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Set it up well — Make feedback part of your expectations for any project. Before you begin any collaboration say when should we give each other feedback? Or, as a manager, make it known that 1–1s are the time for giving feedback. Role model it by asking for feedback yourself so that I can keep learning and growing. Can you give me some feedback on how I’m doing in XYZ ways?

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing LeeAnn Renninger, Co-CEO, LifeLabs Learning LeeAnn Renninger, Co-CEO, LifeLabs Learning.

LeeAnn is a lifelong learner, interested in diverse things, from noticing patterns in the way people part their hair to the way car headlights look like facial expressions. She has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology with a specialization in idea transfer, rapid skill acquisition, and leadership development. She is a co-founder of LifeLabs Learning, a researcher, curriculum design specialist, and co-author of the books Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable & Engineer the Unexpected and The Leader Lab: Core Skills to Become a Great Manager Faster. LeeAnn has lectured at Columbia Business School, Princeton, MIT, the University College London, and the United Nations.

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 have my doctorate in cognitive psychology and a love of figuring out ways to help people communicate ideas better and learn things faster. I started LifeLabs Learning to help professors with these skills, and that worked so well that companies quickly started noticing and asking for the same training for their employees. We’re now 100 + teammates around the globe, helping 1,000+ companies master life’s most useful skills.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

A lot of times managers come to us looking for a grand set of skills, like being a better motivator or being able to say difficult messages well. What we’ve done is to break that complex skill down into what we call Behavioral Units — Or BUs….The tiniest unit of behavior that you can change to make the greatest amount of difference. So, in effect what you get is the ability to simplify complexity and become a better leader faster.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

At the beginning of LifeLabs Learning, we’d often go into companies and ask “who here is a great manager?” Anyone who got named again and again I met with in-person to see what they are doing differently. We called them the greats. I wanted to put the greats through a series of scenarios, but I noticed already from the start that something was indeed different. Whenever I met with a ‘great’ and began asking questions, they very quickly turned the tables to ask questions back — questions like What should I do to prepare? What does success look like? What’s the goal? etc. What becomes clear very quickly is great leaders are good at asking questions, and it happens no matter what the context is. We now train people in exactly that skill.

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?

When you are passionate about research it is hard to stop yourself from sharing all the little details of science and academia. We had to learn quickly to package our content into short, actionable lab formats, cutting anything that isn’t essential. Picture a nerd-out specialist meeting up with a busy sales rep. Not a good match-up unless you get to brass tacks right away, which we now do.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Help people get good at pausing skills on a micro, meso, and macro-level. On the micro-level start your meetings on time and end them on time, with at least a 5-minute break in between. In a meso level role, model taking lunch breaks. On a macro level, reward celebration of progress with small breaks in between sprints, ritualize the closing of projects and make sure the company is taking skillful breaks and vacations.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership means being a catalyst. A catalyst in chemistry is something you put into a liquid to help create change. Great leaders know the questions to ask to bring out new thoughts. They know how to set up the conditions for action to happen, and they know how to bring out the best in people, teams, and orgs.

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?

I think about how what I’m going to say will make people’s lives easier. Then I get excited to share it. I also ask myself what are my 3 MITs here (most important things) and focus only on those.

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?

We create workshops on how to give and receive feedback well and have trained over 200,000 people.

My team of 100+ expects me to be great at role modeling what we teach.

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?

The human body is a feedback organism. For example, when we try to walk, we can only learn by moving, seeing how it lands, then correcting. Workplace feedback follows that same principle. Your goal should be to create a team of learn-it-alls. The only way to do that is to create a feedback culture.

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.

Set it up well — Make feedback part of your expectations for any project. Before you begin any collaboration say when should we give each other feedback? Or, as a manager, make it known that 1–1s are the time for giving feedback. Role model it by asking for feedback yourself so that I can keep learning and growing. Can you give me some feedback on how I’m doing in XYZ ways?

Set up a time to talk with your remote employee. Don’t give feedback in written form unless you know the employee well and/ or the stakes are low.

Ask for a micro yes before giving your feedback -’ is it okay if I share some thoughts with you on XYZ?…’ Micro-yeses create buy-in and give the receiver time to process.

Share the behavior you noticed ‘ I noticed that…’

Name the impact statement ‘I mention it because/ It matters because’

End with a question — ‘What are your thoughts/ do you agree/ next time could you…’

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

We’d strongly suggest giving the feedback in a channel that is richer than email, meaning do it over video or phone. If not possible, you’ll need to front-load your explanation of why you are giving the feedback ‘I wanted to share ____ with you because I think it will help us _____.’

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?

Create a culture where giving feedback is both ritualized (e.g., every 1–1) and is normal as an incident occurs. Do this by checking in regularly: How should we give each other feedback? How are we doing with giving each other feedback, on a scale from 1–10? What would move it one point?

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. 🙂

I’d remind people that the workplace is the place to practice life’s most useful skills. See each day as an experiment. Extract your learning and beat your former self.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

LeeAnn Renninger of LifeLabs Learning: 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.

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