Monmouth Athletics Director Marilyn McNeil and Grand Canyon Interim Vice President of Athletics Jamie Boggs sit down with Athletic Director U to discuss their approach and strategy to providing feedback to their staff, coaches, and student-athletes of different experiences and backgrounds and how they receive feedback from their superiors and coaches.
Giving And Receiving Feedback As A Leader: Monmouth’s McNeil and Grand Canyon’s Boggs
- - What is your approach to giving feedback to staff, administrators, coaches, or student-athletes?
- - What is your strategy in dealing with people that have different experiences, backgrounds, etc.?
- - How do you learn about the feedback each individual responds best to, whether they need specific direction or open collaboration?
- - How do you ensure that you are equipped with the knowledge to provide feedback to individuals in all areas of your organization?
- - What do you think the best way for somebody to give you feedback?
Jason Belzer (ADU): I’m Jason Belzer for Athletic Director U and today, we’re at the Women Leaders in College Sports Conference. I am joined by Marilyn McNeil from Monmouth University and Jamie Boggs from Grand Canyon University. Thank you, ladies, for joining me.
We’re going to discuss giving and receiving feedback. Certainly, an interesting topic from an organizational leadership perspective. Giving feedback is not always easy and sometimes we have to be very particular in the way that we do it to make sure that the feedback that we are giving is received in the right way and is utilized to make meaningful strides towards becoming better at whatever it is that we’re doing.
Marilyn, you’ve been in this business for a long time. What’s kind of your approach to giving feedback whether it’s to your staff, your administrators, your coaches, or even maybe even your student athletes?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, I think the most critical part of giving feedback is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s based on the fact that you have a relationship with the people you’re working with. If you don’t have a relationship, it doesn’t matter how you give the feedback. It’s not going to be successful. So I think developing the relationship with your staff, with your coaches believing in them, trusting them, and trying to make them better, then I think every feedback should be, “Okay, this is going to be a helpful situation.” So unless you have the relationship, you might as well not try.
Jamie Boggs: I would reiterate that. The most important piece is definitely building a relationship with the people and you’re partnered with your student athletes, and getting to know them and being invested in them. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to giving feedback. If we have the honor of leading the people that we serve, then we need to adapt to them and figure out how best to communicate them to make sure that it’s effective and keep that positive communication.
ADU: So then how do you make that assessment or what does that process look like in making a determination? You say building a relationship with somebody. Obviously, the feedback that you may give to the head coach of your basketball team may be very different than the way that you approach somebody else. It could be the stature or the position, it could be the … That person may be a veteran and has been around and is open to feedback versus somebody that’s very young and maybe not used to somebody telling them to do things in a certain way. What’s kind of your strategy or approach in dealing with different types of people and how are you kind of making that assessment in the way that you’re going to approach that feedback?
MM: I think you hit it on… the nail on the head when it …. It can’t be one-size-fits-all. I mean, I’ve got some coaches that were there before I’ve been at Monmouth and I’ve been there 26 years. So they know to lay the land and I’ve got some other coaches that I hired last month. So it’s … First of all, if you’ve done a good job of finding the coaches and figuring out if they’re a good fit, then it’s a matter of making sure the fit continues so that along the way, you are letting them know, “Is the fit working? Is this a good place for you?” And I think, asking them how they’re doing not necessarily on the court, that should probably be one of the last questions you ask, “How are they doing personally? How are … Are they enjoying this? Are they still loving? Do they still have the passion for coaching and teaching?” And if you’ve got that kind of conversation going with them when they mess up, it’s, “Okay, I just got a call from the vice president for student affairs and you’ve got a student athlete that’s not really making it happen. Can we talk about that?” And it’s just a conversation more than a, “Okay, it sounds like you’re not reaching the student athlete. How can I help you reach them? How can we get the student athlete reached? How can I reach you?” So it’s just … It’s more of a conversation than feedback. And I’ve been in some tough conversations and I’ve had to move people along, but that last conversation is just the end of a long dialogue and we’ve had a long dialogue and finally, it’s … It doesn’t have any … It has… It doesn’t have any more life. It’s time to move on.
JB: Yeah. And adding on to what you said about fit, a lot of it is… it’s the culture. If you have a culture of collaboration and transparency and the communication is there, there… It shouldn’t be anything more than a conversation. And so, it becomes easy when you have that culture in place and… And some people, if they don’t fit into that, they’ll self-select to leave, if they can’t handle the feedback or they’ll adopt… Adapt and adjust. And so, as long that culture is there, adding to what she said, it is, it’s nothing more than a conversation.
ADU: So I think often, leaders may make the mistake of when giving feedback, they tell people how to fix things or they say, “Well, we’ve done an assessment, we’ve watched your performance and this needs to happen, X, Y, Z.” And most performance psychologists and organizational psychologists say that the right way to do it is to stimulate ideas within that person’s head and make them think about, “What it is that I’m doing and how can I become better at doing that?” And I think that gets lost in translation very often.
You kind of mentioned that earlier about open dialogue, having a conversation, but do you find yourself often telling one of your employees again, whether a coach or an administrator, “This is the way that it needs to happen” or do you take a different approach to try to get them to think about what they need to do to become a better coach or fix the situation or whatever it may be? How much of a learning process are you creating in that feedback?
MM: Yes. I think it’s … That’s an interesting question because it … I’ve been in some situations where, “Okay, this isn’t really working. So can we talk together about how we can fix this, how we can make it different? Because what you’re doing isn’t working.” And then I’ve been in some situations where we’ve had that dialogue and it’s, “This is not working, so here are some suggestions.” And they have come beyond suggestions, “Here’s what you need to do to get this to happen.” So I think it’s all part of the process and working with your staff to develop them and make them the best they can be because sometimes you have to tell them how to do it and you’re in the position you’re in because you’ve had that kind of experience and you see the bigger picture. “So listen, I … if I were you, I’d do it this way. And if you don’t do it that way, we’re going to have another chat.”
MM: So I do think … But there’s also other times when I think the best thing in the world is for all of us to sit down and say, “This isn’t working now. How would you recommend it?” And it’s … And I never have a one-on-one, it’s a couple of people that are important and critical to the program. Let’s all get together, just put our heads together. This … We’re not … This is not rocket science. This is just working with human beings and creating a really good team and this is all personal. So let’s just do the best that we can.
ADU: What’s the most difficult piece of feedback that you’ve had to give in your career?
MM: That it’s not working and it’s time for you to go. And there’s … And those are always the quickest conversations because there’s really not … You know, you … Like I said, you finished the dialogue. We don’t have anything really more to say.
ADU: And that would obviously have been after many attempts or repeated attempts to get them to figure out what they need to…
MM: Right. Right. Like I said, it always is a surprise because I don’t think people ever want to completely fail. I think there’s always hope and that’s a good thing and that’s a really innate view of all people. But at the same time … And I’ve had these conversations and then two years later, I’ve had them come back and say, “Thank you. That was the push I needed out the door because I wasn’t a fit here. This one wasn’t for me.” So not always. I mean, some of them are still not very happy with me, but I think that’s why we’re in the positions we’re in. We got to figure out what’s best for the institution, what’s best for the team and if we can’t just do that, then maybe we’re not doing our job the right way.
JB: I think sometimes conversations in general feedback where there’s a gap between how maybe a certain staff member or a coach views themselves and how they’re perceived by others, those tend to be a little bit of difficult conversations because no matter what it comes off as criticism. And so, the way that I have addressed that in the past is to be very specific, with examples on certain things that may… Could have been done better, ways, things that could’ve been handled a little bit better, but self-awareness is very important and when that’s not there, I think sometimes those conversations can be very difficult.
MM: Human resources must love you, because that’s what they say to me all time, Be specific. You better have specific examples.” But sometimes it’s just…
JB: It’s my legal background.
ADU: Well, I mean, again, Marilyn, you mentioned sometimes you need to tell a person this is how the way that it needs to be done. How do you know … And obviously they’re a different context, different situations, but how do you know that that’s the way that needs to be done? Obviously you have a wealth of experience, but one of the challenges that I think a lot of athletic director’s face is you’re running a big operation, there’s areas of development and compliance and marketing, and you don’t necessarily have a subject matter expertise in all of those areas. And so, it’s very difficult to often make an assessment on somebody’s performance. Yes, you can do it from a leadership standpoint and you have certain understandings, but there’s just not everything that you know.
And so, you’re evaluating a soccer coach but there are things that the soccer coach may be doing that you don’t even realize. How do you ensure that you are equipped with the knowledge to be able to go in and either give the feedback, the constructive criticism, the suggestions? How are you making sure that you are on top of that and that you’re giving the right feedback, you’re giving people the opportunity to develop and figure out for themselves?
MM: I’m not the soccer coach and I hire them to be the professional in that area, but what I am is the leader of a team. And I know when it’s not going well when I hear from a lot of people within the department, the little criticisms that start coming up and so, I can see the festering, I can hear it, I can feel it. We’re not huge either, so that’s a real benefit from being in a smaller department. When I get two or three criticisms, I know something’s wrong. So then we’ll start the conversation. I’m not going to tell them if they should play a 4-3 front, or you’re going to get somebody … I do tell the soccer coaches, “Get somebody up there to score a goal, please.” I don’t want to spend 110 minutes with a 0-0 score. That’s un-American, that shouldn’t be happening. But that’s as far as I’ll go. But what I’m doing is a leading a team, and I know when something’s not happening with the team, and there’s … Something’s falling apart, and that’s what I’m responsible for, and that’s what I know, and that’s what I’ve developed, and that’s what I care about, and that’s all I can do.
JB: I think you have to be very in tune with your department and the people in your department. A lot of observation, a lot of evaluation, a lot of just getting to know people and having a feel for your department and there’s going to be times where you might wrong, and if you are, you acknowledge it, be accountable for yourself. I mean, you give people chance to communicate to you, open door policy. Make sure you have an opportunity to let everyone let their position be known, because sometimes it’s just a matter of perspective, sometimes it’s people who have different perceptions, they’re advocating for different things, then you get tunnel vision for your area. But what I find is typically a lot of things can be cleared up and fixed for just the communication.
ADU: What’s … Kind of turn the tables a little bit. What about feedback for yourselves, people giving you feedback, your subordinates, or maybe even your superiors, or president, or whoever it maybe? What do you think the best way for somebody to give you feedback? Because obviously self-awareness is important and we all know it ourselves probably better than anybody else. What is the best way for a coach or an administrator to give their boss feedback when they think that they can be doing something better?
MM: I think once again it’s the relationship that you’ve developed with your coaches. I certainly had many conversations where they don’t like where we’re headed or don’t agree with where we’re headed. And it’s up to me to make sure that they understand what my vision is and what my philosophy is, so that they understand when I say no, that it’s coming from a very dedicated spot and that they understand why. I think it’s difficult for… I mean, I cherish the feedback I get from folks above me and I think they’re busy too and they don’t spend a lot of time telling you what they like and what they don’t like. And the usual performance appraisal is kind of false in so many ways. It captures a couple of moments, but that’s it, but I listen to it. I’ll listen to anybody to tell me what they think of the department, because what they’re thinking of the department is actually a reflection on me.
So, I’ve got my ears open. I’m not content with, “Oh, if everything is going well, we won this weekend, so I must be doing really well.” I think that’s in our nature athletically. We’re competitive enough. We got to be doing this better. So what’s not going well? What … And when somebody doesn’t want to talk to me, I want to find out what am I sort of saying? What am I… What kind of body language am I giving off that you won’t come and tell me when you’re upset? That you won’t come and tell me what’s making you mad about all of this. So, we sit down and have another conversation.
I’m told all the time that …I have my door open all the time, I’m told all the time and even when I was a head coach that, “Everybody’s scared of you, they won’t come and talk to you.” And I think, “What is scary about me?” It’s just I think sometimes it’s the position that people are scared of, it’s not the person. And so I think you’ve got to be more personable, you’ve got to be more interactive, you’ve got to go out and …
ADU: Well that … I think that and of itself is feedback. If somebody says, “We’re scared. You have an open door policy but we’re scared to come in.”
ADU: When somebody told you that, at some point, did you kind of self-reflect and say, “Well, maybe I need to change or I need to, maybe, when somebody comes and gives me feedback, I’m too harsh on them” or something like that and said, “Maybe I need to tone it down or …”
MM: Yeah. I mean, I’ve had a couple of coaches come in and say to me, “This coach is too scared to come and talk to you.” And so when you finally get them into your office, I work really hard to cut down those barriers, to say… To talk about them as people and not just as an employee, so that they feel like they can come and talk to me about whatever they want to talk to me about, but then we can get on to their professional lives.
JB: Feedback is a positive. I don’t ever take it as a negative from anyone, whether it’s from a team member, from our staff or from a superior. It means that they’re invested and they’re there to help. And I tend to believe in the good of people and to believe that people do want to help either you or invest in you or are there for the betterment of the overall institution. And so, I think, it’s all how you receive it and if you receive it in a way that’s positive, there shouldn’t be any issue with someone coming in and giving you that feedback. I do understand. I find you very pleasant by the way.
JB: I can’t see anyone being … so yeah, but it is, part of it is position and that’s why we try to make more effort to be out there and build the relationships with our teams to make sure that they do feel comfortable, always giving us feedback.
ADU: What’s the most difficult piece of feedback you’ve received?
JB: Again, I love feedback. For me personally, I’m just someone that wants to continuously grow and I never see feedback as anything but someone wanting to invest in me. So, I don’t take it as negative, I encourage it. In fact, when people do give me feedback, I try to be very intentional with saying, “I appreciate that,” and encouraging them to continue to give feedback.
ADU: That was a very good lawyerly answer.
JB: Thank you.
MM: Yes, that was.
ADU: On that note, thank you, both of you for joining us today. I think some insightful discussion. So, thank you Jamie, thank you Marilyn.
JB: Thank you.