“How to give feedback.” with Lisa MacQueen

Delivering constructive criticism is both an art and a science. Criticize from facts, about what went wrong and what did you expect. Deliver the message with the receiver in mind. It is possible that you may have to deliver feedback to someone you barely know, so avoid jokes, humor or other things that may cloud […]

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Delivering constructive criticism is both an art and a science. Criticize from facts, about what went wrong and what did you expect. Deliver the message with the receiver in mind. It is possible that you may have to deliver feedback to someone you barely know, so avoid jokes, humor or other things that may cloud the message or could lead to misinterpretations.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa MacQueen, she is a Success Coach with Queen and Co. Lisa is the successful owner of two companies. Queen and Company is a business consulting firm that offers coaching and strategies for entrepreneurs, and All Things Skin is a holistic, mostly natural, clean beauty spa located in Toronto. Lisa has been a trusted advisor for advice and direction for 17 years.

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?

Pour a drink and get comfortable, My backstory is no short story. My career did not develop in a straightforward or linear fashion, in fact my success was built purely by accident. The irony behind my story is that I would advise everything opposite from what I did to build my career. I was hyper- focused on becoming a counsellor and my end goal was to obtain my PhD, because Dr. MacQueen sounds pretty damn great, don’t you think? I had to self-fund my education, so I started working 2 jobs at 14 and continued to work 2–3 jobs to afford my schooling. To date, I’ve had over 70 jobs, I’ve had 8 careers and I have volunteered hours equivalent to a full-time 3 year career. To say that I have worked hard, is an understatement. I have done anything morally acceptable to make a living to fund my education. The greatest mistake I made was not having a Plan B.

I always believed that education was the greatest investment, it would always be worth the sacrifice, and I believed this until my career was shattered in 2015. You must understand that my priority was school, everything else was second to that. Work was a necessary priority, otherwise affording this plan would be impossible. I did many things I was good at, and many things I hated doing, but I worked almost anywhere that would hire me and I packed my schedule to the point of it being overwhelming.

I opened ONE place for change in 2011, which was a divorce concierge company, we were a team of professionals who helped couples amicably split, reducing the emotional trauma often seen with divorce and custody battles. By 2015 my career was at its height, ready to soar. I had a tv pilot being drafted around my work, my book was about to be published, my services were in demand, I was booked to speak on tv shows, a speaking tour overseas and I was about to be financially free. And then in one email, my life crashed and burned and everything was gone.

A family law lawyer despised what my agency did and he alleged a horrible false accusation against my company which drained all of my resources to fight and although the verdict was in my favor, it didn’t matter because it cost me everything. To say that I was depressed would be a grand understatement, I was grieving the loss of my life’s work, my character and all of the sacrifices I had made and at that time, none of it felt worth it. I was 36, broke and starting over. The last thing that I wanted to do, was help people. Not because of any spite, but because I was emotionally drained and that would make me a selfish and irresponsible counsellor. I followed a suggestion from a friend and went into recruitment, where my boss actually fired me and pushed me to create Queen and Co.

When you’re depressed you are short sighted, the future is unclear if it’s seen at all. I hadn’t valued my previous experiences and I never considered their skills as an asset to my portfolio until I spent so much time helping candidates and clients do the same. My boss’ insights into my skills were a gift that in part revived my life. I need someone to believe in me and I needed that push. Now as a coach, I do that for entrepreneurs at various stages in their career. I wear a variety of my best hats to help clients grow their success, sometimes that’s helping with a design of company (creative branding, interior design), sometimes it’s career succession planning, and sometimes it’s coaching on communication or leadership. I’ve had the great privilege of working with various clients and when a client of mine was selling his spa, it prompted me to create my own. Every experience in my life had served a lesson and now upon reflection, some with a greater purpose. My success came from overcoming obstacles, so now, a major focus of what I do is removing barriers for others, personally and professionally.

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

Regardless of what capacity a client has worked with me on, I think the censuses on what makes my services stand out, would be the individual experience. I’m proud to say that the spa as well as Queen and Co has been recognized and appreciated for this. The spa was featured in Preferred Magazine which was a beautiful compliment. I delicately hire my team, and besides their added value from their own expertise, we all seem to share the same interests in curiosity. No coaching client, consulting client or spa client could ever say that their experience was generic. The spa was my hardest project, it took time to gain traction. Clients were used to scripted answers and were frustrated when we didn’t offer them. Treatments for skin conditions require evaluation, and not everyone needs the same thing. In terms of coaching, my price might be the same but the delivery is catered specifically to the needs, strengths and weaknesses of the individual.

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

Being an entrepreneur is a lone wolf path, it can be isolating and lonely at times. The complications increase when you are a single woman in business. For any business owner the greatest challenge is getting in-front of your client so when an independently owned consulting firm is invited to the boardroom table, it’s a win. I remember being invited to offer a business development plan to a large corporation and I walked into the meeting which was myself and five men from the company, I sat down and time was awkwardly lingering. Fifteen minutes into the meeting I asked “who might we be waiting for?” and the response was that the meeting will begin when my boss arrives. My company is called Queen and Co, my last name is MacQueen and I, of course, was who was contacted for this opportunity. I had already overcome instances where a colleague had said “use words with 2 syllables or less, we’ve got a blonde at the table” never mind many other derogatory insinuations. This particular situation hit harder than the others, not only had I spent hours to draft a proposal that I clearly wouldn’t be paid for, but I also paid for parking, cleared 3 hours from my schedule that blocked legitimate business opportunities…. I was infuriated. I used to be hurt by these situations, and then I got smart. I billed that company for my time and I legally protected the business draft proposed to them in my bid, which meant that they couldn’t implement any solution I suggested, the deal was to pay the bill and I wouldn’t take legal action if they implemented a solution similar to my suggestions. They paid the bill in full. I now give 30 minute calls for free, and any face to face meeting is billed upfront. It taught me to value my time, as well, I can now very easily eliminate those that have no interest to use my services. As frustrating as that situation was, it changed my business for the better.

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 was assigned a large territory to manage and was designated to work out of 4 offices. One of my scheduled locations was listed as my “home office day.” I had never had a work from option before so this was super exciting for me. I casually prepared for my morning meeting by phone, or so I assumed, wearing yoga pants and coffee in hand ready for the 10 am daily check in. I called in and was immediately asked where I was, I replied with distinction “in my home office” everyone on that call began to laugh hysterically! Thankfully, with humor, my boss clarified that “my home office days are scheduled at corporate headquarters, otherwise known as our home base.” In the four years that I held this position, this remained a running joke. As embarrassed as I was the lesson was still a positive one, for both of us. Clarity in language is important, and having a sense of humor over mistakes helps to diffuse the tension.

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

My advice to CEO’s and leaders regarding burnout is to recognize that it is a real condition and it doesn’t discriminate. EVERYBODY is subject to burnout if you don’t first prevent it. Further, know to recognize the signs when either you, a family member or staff member is experiencing it and INTERVENE.

I often see burnout from a result of unscheduled or irregular hours, never ending task lists, unstructured goals (no dates, no measures of success, targets are unclear) weak delegation or a limited team to delegate to.

The best way to avoid burnout is to be organized, structured and to utilize your team’s strengths. Delegation of both tasks and priorities is an important skill, vital to any company’s success strategy.

Signs of burnout are often seen with a dramatic change to physical appearance; rapid weight gain/loss, hair loss, bags under eyes or changes in mood; short tempered, snippy responses you might also notice chronic fatigue, disorganization, memory loss, or notice that their quality of work has declined. If you miss these signs other things to consider is start paying attention to the time stamps on e-mails, if staff is delivering work at midnight or 2 am, this could be a sign of a major problem.

As a leader, I feel that you own some of the responsibility to manage the workload assigned to your team. For some senior managers they don’t actually know how their staff does their job and this presents fundamental issues with leadership. You should know what your staff is working on, and you should have a reasonable understanding of the technical skill, energy output and time it takes to do it. A frequent mistake I witness with leaders is that they don’t have realistic expectations with staff. There are some occasions when matters are time sensitive, but if your staff is already carrying a heavy workload, alleviate some of that when compounding their tasks with something urgent. I am not a fan of expecting staff to work during their personal time and I’m infuriated when breaks or additional compensation is not included with these additional demands.

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

My definition of a leader comes straight out of the Oxford dictionary. “the action of leading a group of people or an organization’. Many others have defined leadership in terms of behaviors, traits, competencies, activities and results of leaders.” Over the years I’ve begun to evaluate leaders based off of strengths that I admire. Their ability to manage crisis and how they handle a situation. I’ve unfortunately met a lot of people with knowledge in senior roles, but they lack the ability to instruct, organize, mentor or communicate to their team. I don’t love recruitment, but I do love sourcing well paid Executive Assistants and it’s for this very reason. EA’s are often the senior team’s backbone. An EA usually manages all communication, organizes schedules, delegates tasks, etc.. They can strengthen a weak leader. Regardless of a balancing of strengths, a “good” leader should be someone who has earned your respect and values maintaining it.

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?

To prepare for stress I have two things in place. I have a business coach that I check in with weekly, I offer support to many of my coaching clients with their stresses and I too face my own, I think it’s important for your mental health to have an outlet outside of friends and family. Second, I reward myself. I turn off when I need to, I will no longer ignore my body’s response to stress or negativity. It is imperative that I make myself a priority. I am generally, an open book. But not everything I experience is public knowledge and when your team is counting on you, you have to have outlets in place to ensure that you aren’t projecting onto them. The spa faced many challenges that I was managing alone, staff knew that they could text me anytime, but I had to put clear boundaries in place. There are work hours and non-work hours. I work best with routine and structure. So, there was no discussion about work outside of spa hours, no texts or emails would be answered if it related to work outside of operating hours, emergencies excepted. Knowing what you need and asking for it is important, it also sets a great example and a working model for staff.

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’ll share some examples of the more difficult teams I’ve managed.

  1. The largest team that I’ve managed had 120 staff members directly reporting to me, I had 22 fully functioning facilities and my region was 400 km’s wide, spread throughout the Greater Toronto area to South Western Ontario.
  2. I’ve managed internationally dispersed teams, working remote to complete time sensitive projects, while some members are in Australia, Egypt and throughout the west coast. All of us had vast differences in time zones and we were all working on joint projects simultaneously.
  3. Prior to COVID-19 I consulted on a project virtually, and helped to build, design and draft a business model.

Although, these three examples held various challenges unlike the others, the solutions were the same. Time management, collaboration and communication was essential.

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?

Giving honest and direct feedback is a leaders responsibility. You are in this role to “lead” both by example and by navigation. How you speak to your staff, sets a standard on how staff speaks to each other. It is always my job to know the direction of my company and therefore, when the trajectory shifts good or bad, I need to communicate tasks and initiatives with my team. Clearly laid out honest expectations with direct feedback ensures that my team thrives in their individual roles, it maximizes their strengths and it minimizes our losses with respect to time and resources. It’s important to remember that no one is perfect (including yourself) so creating a company culture where mistakes are BOTH prevented and evaluated is vital. This type of philosophy welcomes feedback as a chance to learn and grow. When delivered well, honest and direct feedback provides direction. When feedback is unclear you set your company up for failure, the errors could leave you liable, could cost you great staff, and worse most of these losses are preventable.

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.

Delivering constructive criticism is both an art and a science. Criticize from facts, about what went wrong and what did you expect. Deliver the message with the receiver in mind. It is possible that you may have to deliver feedback to someone you barely know, so avoid jokes, humor or other things that may cloud the message or could lead to misinterpretations.

I drafted a formula and I use the 4 C’s for a diamond as an example; cut to the chase (isolate the issue), be clear with expectations, colour should be black and white to avoid misinterpretation and carat, the conversation should bring value to the situation and your relationship. Remember constructive criticism is to elicit change, positive change.

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?

The most important rule to follow when delivering constructive feedback is to remember that the message matters most to the person who is receiving it. Meaning that your delivery and approach needs to be clearly understood by the receiver. If something will be left up to interpretation and/or the message could be lost, when possible, make it personal. Pick up the phone to avoid miscommunication through text/email.

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?

When you decide to deliver feedback it should be evaluated on a case by case basis.The first thing to determine is whether or not the issue is time sensitive, could waiting to address the problem compromise safety, create liabilities, cost you money… if so, prioritize addressing the issue pronto! However, each situation is unique and before you address the problem you should evaluate all relevant components. In general, the earlier the better, simply because you want to fix the behavior. With lengthy delays, the person you are giving feedback to may not remember what they did or why, which could lead to a repeat of the problematic behavior.

If possible I’d suggest that you wait only enough time to deliver feedback when you can concisely summarize the issue, and when you can accurately address the individual(s) involved privately. Sometimes you may need a cooling off period, so ensure that you address these issues only when calm and when you as well can take some needed space. If you can wait until the end of the day, to allow someone the chance to reflect and reset, that sometimes is best, whereas in other circumstances waiting may strain the ability to work together, in that case an immediate discussion should be had.

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

I wasn’t always a great boss, I thankfully learned a harsh lesson early into my career that was fundamental in shaping who I am today as a leader. I was hired into a senior position at 21 years old and I was managing a large team of lifeguards. I was young, and I looked it. Many of my employees were my age and it was clear in the beginning that many saw me as a friend, rather than a boss. I took an authoritative and rigid approach to managing my team and it did not go well. Two months into my role I had more people quit under my management than our company had seen in years. One of my staff members refused to do an exit interview with me because she said I was intimidating. That was my wake- up call. I spent one week reaching out to all staff. First with an intention to apologize and second, to gain their feedback. I asked them what they wanted to see in a leader and where could I improve. When interviewing staff, I also asked them what key strengths and weaknesses they had in bosses from previous jobs, I attentively paid attention. I remained in that position for four years, and I not only had the highest staff retention rate for all 4 years, but I was awarded for being a leader by example and a strong team member. I continue to grow by talking with my team, I believe in open dialogue and I take their feedback into consideration. I am very transparent with my team, I believe in welcoming your staff well, celebrating them and in having a thorough on-board experience. I gratefully had my ego hit early on. As my career advanced I led larger teams, and worked in various leadership capacities, including work with survivors of violence. Had I continued with an authoritative approach, I no doubt wouldn’t have had the career I did and I certainly wouldn’t have been the valuable coach or mentor that I needed to be for my team handling such delicate circumstances.

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. 🙂

For a personal project to make a small difference where I can, please look out for the launch of V.O.W. In terms of a global movement I would want us to remove obstacles and barriers for each other. Let’s call it, Save a step. For me, it’s been a long journey to get here, if I could save you some steps, I will.

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

My advice is this “Don’t do what’s asked of you, if it isn’t right by you”. In the words of Jon Lewis “You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant.” As I’ve shared, I’ve had some ups and I’ve had some downs, it is so important to do what makes you happy and to experience joys that come from that. Regardless of the obstacles, stay focused and source positive outlets to keep you moving forward. If I wasn’t reminded of that, I highly doubt I’d have the perspective and the success I do.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me through Linkedin as well they can subscribe to updates through Queen and Co’s website which will send invites to my podcasts, live chats, and upcoming retreats. Besides hearing about comedic failures and short cuts to success, followers will gain access to discounted courses, often I’ll share my wholesale rates on products as well.

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

Thank you for including me 😊

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