2×4

At work, we have a very friendly, collaborative, team attitude. I love the people I work with, and I believe they love me too. It’s a wonderful arrangement, and encourages us to do even better work — for ourselves as much as for one another.

Which is a good thing, because there’s a lot of work to do! I’ve been in charge of this team for several years now, and I’m constantly amazed and impressed by the work they do. We’re always in hiring mode due to the growth of the company, yet we’ve managed very well. We continue to have ideas to make improvements. Some get implemented, some we don’t have time for, and sadly, some may get ignored.

That last category is inexcusable. This year, we’ve talked about using a figurative 2×4: To make sure you get heard, you sometimes need to deliver your message as bluntly as possible. I can get in heads-down mode, but as a leader, I must always have an eye out for the team. If I’m not proactively recognizing a need, I may need to be on the receiving end of a 2×4.

It’s not like we’re the only ones to use this expression. A recent post from Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg talks about the value of a 2×4 in reviewing employee performance — “a big wakeup call” for employees who need it.

“The hardest (conversations) are with people who think they are doing really well,” he writes, “when in reality they’re failing or in danger of failing.” As a harsh self-critic, my initial instinct was: Am I in danger of failing? Am I leading my team as best I can? I’ve encouraged them to use 2x4s on me, but come to think of it, that hasn’t happened in a while…

The ensuing revelation may have been my biggest 2×4 yet. I am a harsh self-critic, and not always quiet about it. Nobody is harder on me than me… but that doesn’t mean I’m my most effective critic. I might best hear that from the people I work with. So why haven’t they given me those 2x4s?

Ironically, our office culture may be part of the reason. Friendly, nice people can find it a challenge to deliver critical feedback; imagine how much harder it must be when you see the recipient already beating himself up.

It’s a recent revelation, but one I’m hoping changes the way I act — it’ll benefit my team, and it will absolutely be good for me.

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