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Posts Tagged ‘Clementine Churchill Letter to Winston Churchill

True Feedback

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Over the last few days, the whole world heard a victorious Barack Obama thank his wife of 20 years profusely for the encouragement and support he received from her during the presidential elections he contested in the USA. While he proclaimed his much stronger love for the first lady, we observed a thunderous uproar, cheers and applause, not only from those who watched this incident unfold while being present at the ceremony, but billions who watched it glued at their television sets.

This is arguably the most powerful man on the earth speaking. And mind you, he is speaking in the full public view, acknowledging the role that only a spouse can play. This is not the first time we have heard Obama express his thankfulness towards Michelle – and don’t you mistake him – he is not only expressing gratitude for her being a wonderful wife or a mother or a homemaker alone. He recognizes the role of a strong person backing him; aiding him not only with reinforcement, but also with feedback and most probably, with much needed constructive criticism at times. Well, we all know how much we need that one in our lives and careers…

I am a big fan of one taking well-intended criticism in his or her own stride, and working upon bettering self. And trust me you, no one gives a better, sometimes harder-hitting feedback than a spouse. In the times we live , chances are that our spouses are far more educated and successful than us, and chances are even higher that they are wiser ones, specially in the moments when we choose to lose it!

And why to only speak about the need of feedback when one is at the wrong end of things and needs what is now most fashionably termed as ‘developmental feedback.’ Criticism, well meant one, is most crucial at the times when one is rather powerful, successful and flowing with the good times. That is when the chances of converting our 99% good-looking results into a solid, sustainable 100% performance gets overlooked. Along with support and care that a spouse extends, that moment of her pointing at a new way, guiding towards that blind side, hinting at newer risks to be taken and higher reward to be achieved, showing that under-achieved angle of personality, hitting on hard towards that one key area of focus that we may have been missing inadvertently… all these moments and feedbacks in turn become the seeds of our future success as a whole.

R Gopalakrishnan, the celebrated author of bestseller, ‘The Case of the Bonsai Manager’, in his latest marvel ‘When the Penny Drops – Learning What’s Not Taught’, lays considerable stress on the role a spouse plays in explicit feedback, much differently than all other people you give you feedback:

“It is often said that if you really care about somebody, you give them constructive feedback. If you do not care about somebody, you say only positive things. However, in reality, that is not the way the world works.

He explains:

“Very little is told to you by your boss or colleagues about the negative manifestations of your bonsai traps. Why should your peer do so when it is none of his business? And why should your senior do so lest he be regarded as a nagging senior? Why should your subordinate risk his career by doing so?

Gopalakrishnan asserts further:

“You can become aware of your dark spots by someone holding a mirror to your behavior and by looking deep into the mirror…

…Wives are known to render a unique service to their husbands by telling them what no one else dares to. The explicit feedback that a leader can get from the spouse can be harsh, but very valuable…”

Now, isn’t that so true? I am sure, deep inside our hearts, all spouses agree to this one. Think of it, who would in Obama’s staff, dare risk giving a critical feedback to THE President of THE US of A! The same feedback, I am sure, the first lady would render so easily to, what we now know, much willing ears…

I lead a pretty large team – women and men who are strong & competent individuals. To every one of them, when I interviewed, asked a question…

Have you gone back ever and asked your spouse this question – Hey mate, what are the two areas of mine that if I work upon and improve, I would become a much better professional?”

Every time I asked this question, I have observed amusement writ large over the face of the person. Nearly all of them don’t answer, as they have never asked this question to their spouses. And yet I can tell you, all well-meaning ones have gone back that day and asked this question for sure…

I am sure, they heard something really sound and useful that time…

I am leaving you with what R Gopalakrishnan calls the Clementine Mirror; he produced in his book a letter written by Clementine Churchill to her husband, Sir Winston Churchill – the Clementine Advice.

It is indeed a worthy read:

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner…if an idea is suggested, say at a conference, you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you – I said this, and I was told ‘No doubt it is the strain’.

My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed deterioration in your manner; and you are not as kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders…with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness, and if possible Olympic calm…I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you…

Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness…

Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful…


(June 27, 1940)

Now, isn’t that the most sound business advice a leader can get? Do think about it.


Photo-credit 1: skillsconverged.com || Photo-credit 2: Flipkart.com || Photo-credit 3: Lettersofnote.com

PS: You can access the complete letter here.

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