Seeking feedback in pursuit of gritty greatness

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

One of the best pieces of advice I've received in my career comes from PR Week Global Editorial director Steve Barrett. (PR Week is a sister publication of McKnight's through Haymarket Media. If you work in PR, you should read it!) Steve, a long-time mentor of mine, encouraged me to think about conferences as a time to ask people what they did and didn't like about McKnight's, and what we could do better.

This is challenging because it invites criticism, and I am a sensitive journalistic snowflake. Plus, I figure in life and work that, if people are unhappy, they'll let you know. Certainly McKnight's commenters rarely hold back; we recognize some of the most outspoken are not necessarily an accurate representation of the industry as a whole. (People who comment, for one, have time to comment.) So I took Steve's advice recently and started asking people what they thought.

Occasionally people offer ideas that we act upon (such as our “On the Move” section) and I generally share any complaints back at the fort. But often, as happened at the LeadingAge Institute in Minnesota last week, readers look at me with terrified stares and blurted, “Nothing, I love McKnight's, thanks.”

It's always hard for me to tell if a) I've put them on the spot, b) they don't want to hurt my feelings because they think I'm a nice person, c) they don't want to offend me because I'm a journalist, or d) they truly love McKnight's and wouldn't change a thing.

But I've also thought recently that perhaps there's a possible e) answer: No one tends to ask for their opinion. When no one listens to your thoughts, why volunteer them?

Which brings us to the question of how often do you, as an administrator, CEO or manager, ask for feedback of colleagues? I'm not talking about saying to your boss, “What do you think I can improve on?” which I dearly hope happens in annual reviews or is communicated regularly. What I'm talking about is a more casual conversation related to improving quality and strengthening company culture, especially with employees lower on the totem pole. This doesn't only mean certified nursing assistants, but rather activity directors, the manager of admissions, and clinicians.  

Why invite this criticism? It leads to feedback and how becoming great at anything — including leadership — involves practice. I have not stopped nattering about “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., for the past month. While colleague Emily Mongan blogged about Duckworth speaking at LeadingAge last year, let me add my two cents: You have to read “Grit” if you want to improve in any area. The reason is that Duckworth explains how the truly great may have some natural talent, but the reason they succeed is because they used “deliberate practice.” This includes setting a goal and seeking feedback.

We all have certain gifts. But we often let that allow us to become lazy. For example, I've realized that I not only want McKnight's to be the best it can be, but that I also want to become a great writer. To accomplish this, I have to approach writing with a mentality of deliberate practice.

Yet grit is not an exclusive concept related to our professional lives. Maybe what you are truly passionate about involves being a good father, or a fantastic quilter, rather than your current job. But no matter what you do every day, pursue something hard in pursuit of a larger goal. “Natural talent” is not enough, and part of growth occasionally requires reflection and redirection. 

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.