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“How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful” With Mary Williams

No individual or team can reach its full potential without feedback. It’s all about growth and becoming the best you can be. People need to know when they are doing well, and they need to hear from you when they are struggling. If someone is not doing their best work, they know it. Failure to […]

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No individual or team can reach its full potential without feedback. It’s all about growth and becoming the best you can be. People need to know when they are doing well, and they need to hear from you when they are struggling. If someone is not doing their best work, they know it. Failure to discuss this openly and honestly leads to failure. As leaders, we owe it to our teams to know when things are not working. And when they are! When you work in a culture of feedback, engagement increases, and so does productivity. People want to do a good job. They want to feel like they are making a difference. And leaders need feedback too.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Williams.

A veteran of the C-Suite, Mary is a passionate advocate for utilizing the best skills in business etiquette and protocol to ensure meaningful actions for success in business and life. After more than a dozen years in her role as chief of staff, Mary launched her own dream business, Mary Williams Your First Impression Authority. As a graduate of the American School of Protocol and a certified business coach, Mary understands the complexities of maneuvering effectively in the workplace.

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 call this my third act! I worked for many years in the non-profit world as a professional fundraiser. Through that work, I met the CEO of a national real estate investment company. We worked together on a capital campaign to build a new building for the American Red Cross in Ann Arbor, MI. Fast forward two years and he invited me to work as his Chief of Staff to double the size of his company. This led me to discovery my true passion, coaching and training on business etiquette, social skills and the power of first impressions. That is when MWFIA was born.

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

I have been able to successfully blend all of my experience in both the non-profit and corporate worlds to bring a different kind of business training to anyone and everyone who wants to reach their full potential and achieve their biggest goals.

For the past four years, I have taught the students in the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University Dining Etiquette and the importance of Social Skills in business. Many of the students in the Corporate Mentorship Program are the first members in their family to go to college. There is nothing in this world more rewarding for me than to experience the genuine interest and enthusiasm shared with these students. The notes of appreciation I receive are incredibly meaningful, and the opportunity to keep in touch with them as they graduate and begin their careers is an honor. I cherish these relationships and love watching their success.

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

I would say the most interesting thing about my career is my educational background is in nursing! I did not have the technical skills and knowledge to get the jobs I was fortunate to land. Everyone asked me where I got my MBA! I don’t have an MBA. What I do have is the ability to work hard and connect with people. I am a living, breathing testimonial to that old saying, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

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?

I mean the funniest mistake is that I went to nursing school! I don’t like sickness or blood! What was I thinking? However, I did discover a passion project while working at a hospital. Fundraising! Hence my professional fundraising career was born.

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

I was the poster child for what NOT to do during my corporate career. I didn’t take a vacation for ten years. I didn’t eat right or get enough sleep. I missed time with my family at key moments. I was always working, always traveling. I started reflecting on all of that, and it was one of the reasons I decided to leave it behind and launch my own thing. In the process, I began to understand more fully the importance of optimizing my health and wellness. I started working with a wellness coach. I began getting regular acupuncture. I discovered Pilates. You can’t push yourself 24–7 indefinitely. I lead a much more well-rounded life now. I am happier. Healthier. Stronger. And finally, still productive. I try to work five hours of intense focus each day, and then go for a walk on the beach, or in nature. There is no need to work 20 hours a day. It’s not how you thrive. It’s how you burnout and miss out.

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

For me, leadership is all about emotional intelligence. Leadership is about a commitment to life-long learning. Leadership is showing kindness, generosity, gratitude, empathy and courage. You need unimpeachable integrity, and a keen level of self-awareness. You need to inspire trust. Most importantly, leadership never stops. It’s a journey.

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 love this question, and I share why it works in the courses I teach. I power pose! If you have not heard of Dr. Amy Cuddy, the social psychologist, bestselling author and award-winning Harvard professor, check her out. When do I power pose? In every example you list. Before a high stakes meeting, talk or decision. It works every time.

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?

I have led fundraising teams and sales teams. I have led a team that launched a luxury boutique real estate brand. Feedback is essential to any team’s success. And so is trust. If you build trust, you can talk openly and honestly with your team or individual team members about what is working and what’s not. If you are genuine and sincere and respectful, you can talk through anything. It is often more about listening than talking after you give feedback.

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?

No individual or team can reach its full potential without feedback. It’s all about growth and becoming the best you can be. People need to know when they are doing well, and they need to hear from you when they are struggling. If someone is not doing their best work, they know it. Failure to discuss this openly and honestly leads to failure. As leaders, we owe it to our teams to know when things are not working. And when they are! When you work in a culture of feedback, engagement increases, and so does productivity. People want to do a good job. They want to feel like they are making a difference. And leaders need feedback too.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that does not 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.

In my coaching practice, I often share with my students and clients who are facing difficulty with communication, there are 1,000 ways to say the same thing. When a person is getting ready to have a difficult conversation, especially if they have let it go on for too long without addressing whatever the issue is, they project anger or frustration. Therefore being conflict avoidant causes issues. In business, I believe there is never a reason to have a negative interchange. Obviously, when you must give feedback remotely, you don’t have the gift of being in the room with the person and reading all of the body language and other non-verbal communication.

  1. Be thoughtful. Choose your words wisely. Write it down before delivering constructive criticism.
  2. Show empathy. You never know what an employee is going through outside of work. They may be having a tough time personally, which can often affect work performance.
  3. Be concise. No need to ramble or pile on. Stick to what you need them to improve.
  4. Listen. There may be information or another perspective that you had not thought of prior.
  5. Offer support. Provide a solution or idea on what they can do differently and how they might do it with greater success.

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?

Without question, every time I give a presentation to a team, or a group of students, this question comes up. As you have so accurately stated, people do get offended by emails for exactly this reason.

You should always start the email with a salutation. Good morning Bill, Good afternoon Mary, etc.

Don’t just launch into the feedback. Start out by saying something like, I hope you are having a good week.

Don’t ramble. Be concise. Point out what you would like to see different.

In closing, show support for helping them improve. Commit to providing the tools necessary.

Let them know you appreciate their understanding.

Finish the email with a salutation.

Reread the email before hitting send. Again, there are 1,000 ways to say the same thing, and still provide honest feedback.

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?

I believe you should provide feedback as quickly or as close to the time of the incident, once you fully understand the facts and circumstance. Emotionally intelligent leaders do not react without thoughtfully reflecting and understanding the facts. If you have weekly or bi-weekly conversations with your team members one on one, it may work to do it then. If it cannot wait, until the next one on one, do it sooner.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss can see potential. A great boss communicates clearly. A great boss is supportive. A great boss never gossips. A great boss can lead a team to successful results. A great boss anticipates challenges and provides solutions. A great boss inspires.

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. 🙂

It would be spread kindness and the power of nice in the world. And to help young women succeed and eliminate the promotion gap.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

The most rewarding accomplishments in my life have come from teamwork. When you work with a group of committed people towards a common goal and succeed, it is an amazing feeling.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

marywilliamsfia.com

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

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