a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Mollor. Penny Bauder – Authority Magazine

Chuck Mollor is the founder, CEO, executive coach, and advisor at MCG Partners. He is the author of the best-selling book, The Rise of The Agile Leader. Can You Make the Shift? MCG Partners specializes in leadership and talent optimization, aligning business and people strategy for maximum results.

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?

t’s my pleasure, and thank you for having me! I’ve been in management consulting and professional services for most of my career (more than 30 years) and a five-year stint in corporate America. I experimented with different roles and specialties, and was also fortunate to advance, though it was no straight line uphill. I had a few challenges and failures along the way. I was able to build and run several businesses. I decided to start my firm in 2007 and became an executive coach. I wanted to work with clients again, specifically helping leaders and leadership teams reach that next level of success — and help them address their trials and tribulations, as I had done with my career challenges as a manager.

At MCG Partners, I’ve been fortunate to build an outstanding team and world-class capability in helping clients optimize leadership and talent to achieve their business results. We offer executive coaching, leadership development, management training, employee engagement, assessments, and work around culture, diversity and inclusion, and managing change.

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

We stand out in many ways. We are a trusted partner and advisor to companies of all industries and sizes, including start-ups, privately or family-owned businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and not-for-profit companies. As a full-service firm, many small to mid-sized clients use all of our services and have been with us for many years.

We understand the purpose, vision, strategy, and culture of our clients and who they aspire to be. That allows us to provide the right solutions that will have the right impact on their success and business.

We tailor and customize our services to meet the individual needs of our clients.

When I first started, I was fortunate to bid for a program to develop the leadership team of an upcoming and growing company. I was competing against six of the largest and best leadership development firms in the world. Fortunately, they chose me for the project, which led to over ten years of work with the company, expanding our partnership to include executive coaching, management training, employee engagement, assessments, sales training, and more. The company tripled in size over this time.

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

I’ve had a few! One was the honor to work briefly with Larry Bossidy, who was the client’s board chair. Larry is long retired but still sits on a number of boards. He is the former vice-chair of the Board under Jack Welch at GE. Larry went on and became CEO of Allied Signal and Honeywell, and is co-author of his best-selling book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. He truly is one of the legends in the industry.

I recall one particular conversation we had with the CEO about a member of the executive team in which he asked me, “Has this person arrived?” I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, he is sitting down the hall.” I must have had a strange look on my face as he asked me the question again: “Has this person arrived?”

Larry went on to explain that when someone has “arrived,” it meant that they were no longer interested or open to learning, input, or feedback and that this person would struggle with their effectiveness because of it. To me, this was a relevant concept that stayed with me for years. So much so that I expanded on it and utilized this concept in working with clients. Part of my job is helping leaders to make sure they never “arrive,” but remain open, no matter how successful they become.

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?

About 20 years ago, I was successfully running a large global practice that was the most profitable and successful in the company. My boss, the CEO, asked if I had ever had a 360-degree assessment. I said no, but I was curious as to why he asked. I found out a few weeks later when the evaluation was completed, and I received the feedback. I was shocked by the many tough comments and ratings from those who participated in the assessment. That was when I learned that I was not very self-aware of how I came across, and how my key stakeholders (my boss, peers, subordinates, and other people I worked with) thought of me. I look back now and can say my lack of self-awareness was the size of the Grand Canyon.

I was also so mature back then (wink, wink), that my reaction to my boss was basically, “To hell with them. Look at my results and performance.”

Thankfully, my CEO was a savvy and wise boss, and smiled, and looked at me and said, “I understand the feedback was hard and difficult to receive. You will always be successful. You are smart, hardworking, get results, and people like you. But you don’t understand the leadership part of your job. If you want to continue to develop and maybe be a CEO one day, you need to learn how to be a leader, not a manager.”

He suggested that I go and cool down, think about it, and then chat again in a week. I got over myself and decided to invest and learn what an effective leader meant for me being. The lesson learned here is to be open to feedback. Listen, learn, ask clarifying questions if you need to, and then put together a plan and strategy on what you will do with that feedback to be more productive.

I’ve been on that journey and quest of leadership effectiveness ever since.

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

First, communicate constantly. Don’t let employees speculate how things are and where you are going.

Ask for input from your employees. What do they need? What are their concerns? If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Employees want and need their voices to be heard.

Help employees with their quality of life. Make sure your employees are taking time off, not working from the moment they wake up until they go to bed — which is happening right now with too many remote employees. Ensure they are not in back-to-back meetings all day, either, so they can have time to think, reflect, develop, and plan.

Have ad hoc conversations. Check-in with your employees on a regular basis without a business agenda or need. See how they are doing, how they are feeling. What’s happening in their personal lives, and with themselves. What are they dealing with, and how can you or your company be of help, if needed. Have fun, plan social get-togethers. It can work remotely!

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

I find it that leadership has several attributes and is more of a formula. Leaders are self-aware, open to learning, input, and feedback. They are about getting the best out of their people and have shifted their focus from themselves to others. A leader learns what motivates and drives a person, and a team, and adjusts their approach to be effective with them to achieve their aspirations. Leaders are not afraid to have difficult conversations, respectfully. When you think of someone in your life who really made a difference — perhaps gave you a second chance; accepted you when others didn’t, or pushed you to reach a goal you didn’t know you were capable of — that’s a leader.

Another critical aspect of being a leader is to find and create time in your week for self-reflection, development, and planning. You can’t think, develop, and plan unless you create time to do it. It doesn’t just happen. It’s like going to the gym: if you want to get stronger, or lose weight, you need to go each week, and it can take weeks to see any results at all, and months for substantial results. Developing yourself as a leader is no different.

True leaders ask for feedback and input. In researching the concept for my book, one thing became crystal clear. The old days of authoritarian, “command-and-control” style of leadership is over. Companies that are still operating on this model are suffering right now. Be as specific as you can when soliciting feedback, and then listen. Don’t get defensive, justify, or rationalize. Ask clarifying questions if needed. The more specific, the better. It lets people know that you are working on your development and effectiveness and that you respect their opinion and view.

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?

This is an important question, especially during the pandemic and continuing social unrest. Sometimes, we don’t even know when we are dealing with stress due to anxiety, the unknown, how our loved ones are doing, how work is going, and so on. For me, the ability to handle stress is more important than ever. It’s hard to be measured, calm, patient, and to resist the urge to overreact or become overly emotional if we are not managing stress.

Are you getting enough sleep? Do you have an outlet to relieve stress? For many, it’s exercise or a long walk. For some, it’s recreational sports like tennis or golf; or having a hobby. For some, it’s a good book, spending time with family or friends, or going for a hike or to the beach. The key is finding something and doing something to manage your stress, including eating healthy. The more mindful you are in finding venues to manage your stress and manage yourself, the more effective you will be in high-stakes meetings, a talk, or a decision.

I also do a lot of work around managing one’s triggers — which is the ability to effectively manage your behavior when others or situations “trigger” you emotionally. I put people through an exercise to identify their triggers. Then, I teach them to anticipate their triggers and avoid becoming a victim of them. This allows people to be more effective in managing their triggers, especially under stress.

I had a client who was struggling with his intensity, lack of patience, and demanding expectations. We worked hard to identify what his trigger points were, and received feedback from his key stakeholders. We reviewed his PI Behavioral Assessment (PI), which showed he had very strong behavioral characteristics in these areas. Once he understood this, he wanted to modify his approach so he could have stronger and more trusting relationships. We came up with an action plan and specific techniques, approaches, and knowledge to help him shift situationally. It took some work and time, but it became a transformational moment for his career.

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?

Happy to. I just wrote a book where I discussed some of this and many of the questions you are asking. It’s an Amazon best seller, The Rise of the Agile Leader. Can You Make the Shift?

I’ve been fortunate to manage many teams over my career and learned a lot about honing the craft of giving and receiving feedback. It’s not easy to give feedback, and most of us haven’t done a great job of it. The good news is, it’s a learnable skill that, like any skill, takes practice. For me, I used to be a bit too direct in giving feedback, it’s something I still can struggle with. It has to do with my style and personality, and through becoming more aware of my natural style in using and learning from my PI, I’ve been able to adjust and modify my style to be more effective. I’ve also learned the many different personalities of others using PI, which allows me to effectively adjust my approach with that particular person or team. We use PI with our clients, as we are a licensed and certified partner firm.

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?

It’s critical, as people need to know where they stand in terms of their performance and their effectiveness in their role. How are they developing; how are they progressing? What’s the gap between where they should be versus where they are?

Giving feedback has changed. To be effective, you first ask a person what they think of the specific area you want to give feedback on. It’s much more effective for a person to self-assess than to just blurt out what you are thinking, as questions can lead to a conversation. Don’t just tell a person what they are doing wrong or why they made a mistake and failed. Leaders need to create an environment where their people can be comfortable with failure and mistakes so they can learn from them and continue to challenge the status quo, to be experimental, to be innovative.

You also want to give feedback immediately or as soon as you realistically can. Waiting weeks or until the end of the year for a performance review won’t have the necessary impact. The purpose of feedback is to align a person and a team’s understanding of themselves versus your view.

The ability to give effective versus ineffective feedback is the difference of having a healthy, engaged, and innovative person, team, and culture that is performing versus the opposite.

It’s also essential to be effective in receiving feedback. Listen; don’t get defensive. Don’t make facial expressions or body language that gives the impression you are not receptive or open to feedback. Ask clarifying questions if you need to. It’s critical not to defend yourself or justify yourself, otherwise you risk not having people provide you feedback. If you want to be an effective leader, asking for and receiving feedback is one of the key tools in developing yourself as a leader.

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.

  1. Ask yourself if the timing is right to give feedback. What’s going on in their life right now? Are they having a good or bad day? Will they be receptive to feedback and input? Don’t try to force a conversation if a person is too distracted or won’t be engaged during the conversation.
  2. Focus on the person first. Ask them about how they are doing, how their family is doing. Have you invested time in the relationship where you know the person and they know you? It’s difficult to have these types of conversations when trust and openness hasn’t been established. You might not be aware that this person may be dealing with significant issues in their family, home or personal life. The last several months have shown a significant increase of pressures, stresses, anxieties and challenges.
  3. Understand the person’s persona and style. Using a tool, like PI, helps you understand a person’s personality and characteristics. Are they afraid of conflict? Are they assertive? Are they skeptical or risk-averse? Are they more reserved/quiet, or extroverted? Are they resistant to change or are they a driver of change? Knowing a person, who they are, and what motivates and drives them allows you to modify your approach to be effective in how you interact, communicate, and provide feedback.
  4. Do it in person. Always give feedback, if possible, in person (preferred) or in a video meeting. This will allow you to see a person’s body language, facial expressions, and how engaged and focused they are in the conversation.
  5. Prep the person in advance. Let them know what the conversation will be about. You might have several things to discuss; ensure feedback is one of them. Allow a person to prepare their thoughts on how they are doing. As mentioned, you want them to give you their thoughts on how they are doing and what their plans are for progression and course correction if needed.

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?

I highly recommend not giving feedback over an email, even if you feel you are trying to be as constructive as possible. Emails can easily be misinterpreted. Ideally, discuss in a video call (if you can’t do it in person). When remote, even a phone call is more effective than an email. Again, ask a person questions on how they feel they are doing and specifically about the area where you want to give them feedback. You might learn that you were not initially clear of what that person’s priorities are, or of the deadline.

An email is an excellent way of sending a summary of the conversation you had around expectations, performance, deadlines, progression, and updates. That allows you and the person to be aligned on where you both stand on expectations.

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 do believe the best time is immediately after an incident, but there are caveats. Are you both calm and rational? If there was a highly emotional or testy situation, you are better off waiting a day or two. Is the person receptive and ready for the feedback? It’s important to see if a person will be receptive and has the right mindset to receive feedback.

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

A great boss is made up of a number of important characteristics and qualities. They need to be open and transparent. They need to be direct while also being empathetic. They need to see your potential and encourage you to expand your thinking, skills, and experiences. They need to respect you and challenge you and hold you accountable. They need to let you be curious, fail and make mistakes, and help you get back on your feet again. They need to understand you, your passions, and your interests. And they need to motivate and inspire you to be a productive member of a team and culture; and to reach great heights of achievement.

My firm recently asked the question, “What does the leader of today and tomorrow need to look like?”

We developed a new leadership model based on this question, which is also covered in my book. It was based on research and speaking with CEOs, executive teams, and companies. It’s the Agile Leader. Here are 10 characteristics of what an agile leader looks like:

  1. Self-Awareness: understands own strengths, styles, spirit, and character, and reveals this to others. Has and conveys a sense of purpose.
  2. Accountable: committed to doing the right things for the right reasons. Exhibits consistency of values, principles, and actions.
  3. Inclusive: broadly includes others in achieving results and embraces diverse and unique perspectives across a variety of demographics and geographic locations.
  4. Collaborative: works broadly with others, understanding the complex, interrelated network of stakeholders that relate to the business and leads in a way that takes these diverse interests into account. Supports productive interactions in and across the team.
  5. Communicative : establishes shared meaning across individuals, teams, and stakeholders through clear and transparent two-way exchange of information. Links day-to-day efforts to larger organizational directions.
  6. Empowering: establishes an environment where employees can take charge of their work, self-organize, and adapt to changing demands.
  7. Focused: establishes and maintains a focus on achievement, demonstrating stamina and energy in pursuit of results, and encourages others to embrace shared goals.
  8. Decisive: integrates information from multiple sources to establish frameworks for decision-making and to make judgments quickly for continued progress.
  9. Curious: curious about customers, social trends, technology, and the market. Open to thinking differently and oriented to innovations that can improve client/customer experience or operations.
  10. Experimental: emphasizes growth through pushing limits, small experiments, and risk-taking to succeed in a volatile, uncertain, complicated, and unpredictable world.

The Agile Leader can tap into these characteristics, depending on the situation, to create an agile culture based on shared organizational values that align your business and people strategies. Do you want a high-performing and engaged workforce? Do you want an organization that is aligned with your purpose, vision, and strategy?

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. 🙂

Love this question. I’d like to start a movement of tolerance and acceptance. A movement of being inquisitive and curious to understand the views and experiences of others, and being willing to listen and discuss respectfully and rationally. I still do believe people want to do what is fundamentally right, but we are so focused on what we don’t agree with, and who is right and who is wrong. We are shutting down others’ views, and we are not exploring the views and lenses of others enough. People are entrenched in their view of the world even if the facts and data show otherwise. We need to be more rational and objective and look at all sides of a view. We want to focus on what is wrong but also acknowledge all of the progression and advancements we have made, and focus on how to continue to solve problems.

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

There are a number of them, but one comes to mind for this interview. It’s, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Albert Einstein. It’s about the ability to help others, and in making the world a better place, one person, one family, and one community at a time.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for asking! I can be followed on both websites, www.mcgpartners.com, and www.chuckmollor.com. I can also be followed and connected with at https://www.linkedin.com/in/chuckmollor/. I can also be reached at chuck.mollor@mcgpartners.com.

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

Thank you, it’s been my pleasure!

About MCG Partners

MCG Partners a woman-owned consultancy specializing in leadership, team and organizational development solutions. We help businesses optimize success through the entire management life-cycle. MCG Partners is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner. To learn more please contact John Griffith at john.griffith@mcgpartners.com and at mcgpartners.com.