Ask Lighthouse: How to Get Promoted as a Manager, Feedback for Sensitive Employees, Unlimited Vacation Policy

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

What's the best way to give feedback to sensitive team members? What steps do you need to take to get promoted as a manager? And should you adopt an unlimited vacation policy?

Welcome to part four of "Ask Lighthouse”, our weekly format that answers your questions about leadership. Each week, Jason Evanish, the CEO and founder of Lighthouse, and other leaders will share their advice for overcoming your biggest challenges based on their experience and lessons learned helping others.

The goal is to provide you with the nuance and detail that you can't find in our long-form posts that try to be more generally applicable. 

You can send in your questions for next week here: Submit Your Questions for Next Week Here

This Week's Ask Lighthouse: Giving Feedback to Sensitive Team Members, How to Accelerate Your Career Growth, Unlimited Days Off

Today's questions are focused on the following topics:

Here are ways you can address these challenges with links to further reading you can use to drill deeper.

constructive feedback is the best way to learn

Making constructive criticism part of your ongoing conversations

Question #1: How do I handle an employee who's extremely sensitive to criticism? It seems like they take everything I say personally instead of professionally, and that's becoming a problem.

Feedback is a key component of getting better performances from your team, and that means they have to accept feedback as part of their job. The important thing with criticism is that it's always constructive and that it's got a clear direction forward

If someone is very sensitive to criticism, here's what you can do to get the most out of them:

  1. Find out how they prefer to receive feedback. Ask them which approach they think works best with them. They are more likely to be open to constructive criticism in 1 on 1s, as receiving it in front of their colleagues may cause them to feel embarrassed or singled out.
  1. Use the Prepare - Listen - Act model
  • Make sure your feedback is very well prepared and grounded. Take 5 to 10 minutes and sit down to really think about the feedback you're going to provide and what they could ask you about it. Think about the context, the reasons behind their bad performances, and how their bad performance is affecting others. 
  • Be prepared to listen for key information. Constructive feedback is a conversation, not a monologue. Take the time to listen to their side of the story, ask them questions to better understand their perspective, and then give them constructive feedback.
  • Act on what you learn. A simple "Glad we had this chat” is not enough to help your team. If you want someone to change or improve something they're doing, be explicit about the next steps you expect them to take.
  1. If you see your team member commit to improving their performance, make sure to praise them. Of course, praise has to be genuine to be effective. Be specific about what you thought they did well, and they'll feel more motivated to do it again.

If all of this fails and your team member is still struggling with receiving criticism, you can try a Feed Forward, a concept created by Marshall Goldsmith. The rules of Feed Forwards are simple:

Rule #1: No feedback about the past.

Rule #2: No judging or critiquing ideas.

Those rules are followed by an equally straightforward process:

a feed forward is a very non judgmental way of receiving feedback

Feed Forwards can help even the most sensitive people on your team, as they disregard past mistakes and focus on the future.

Remember - feedback is about an action, not the person. Always focus the feedback on what's the action, not that the person is inherently bad. That means the person can change and stop doing the action.

For more in-depth content on how you can improve the performance of everyone on your team, check out these links:

if you ask for a promotion, make sure to demonstrate the data behind your success

Show everyone you're ready for a promotion

Question #2: What is the best way to get promoted as a manager? How do I go about asking for a promotion and structure that conversation?

As a leader, your priorities for your own growth and development are those of your team. Their success is your success. Here are the foundations of helping your team thrive and furthering your own career (we have links to more detailed posts for all of them):

Develop your soft skills. Learn how to have effective 1 on 1s, as they are the basis of your and your team's progress. Avoid status updates and have quality meeting agendas. Drive accountability and set action items for every check in. Become a better listener and learn how to get their buy-in before you make any major decisions.

Get better at time management. Spend the majority of your time thinking about how you can make your entire team more productive. The combined productivity of your team is significantly higher than your own alone, which is why you need to become a multiplier for them. Additionally, make sure you take regular breaks and manage your energy to avoid burnout. Your mood will be reflected on the rest of your team, so take time to rest and consider your priorities instead of always reactively putting out fires.

Develop a growth mindset. Become a regular reader to add new skills and improve. Learn how to grow your people through coaching and nurture future leaders on your team that can take on a part of the workload from you as your team grows.

These skills take time to develop, but they'll combine to help you accelerate your career. Once you master them, people will know you're a very effective manager and it will only be a matter of time for your next promotion as word spreads in your department. 

Be prepared to present evidence of your team's progress

When asking for a promotion, you need to prove that you and your team can deliver. To do that, you need to demonstrate:

  • How you've achieved your OKRs and goals in major projects on time
  • That your team has operated at a high level without damaging internal conflicts 
  • You can lead employees of all types and skill levels, including turning around underperforming employees

Work on your soft skills and demonstrate how you've used them to achieve your goals. If you can do that, you'll be able to show everyone you're ready for the next step.

Why you should avoid unlimited vacation policies

Question #3: Should I add unlimited vacation as a perk for my startup?”

We'd highly recommend against implementing unlimited vacations. A 2017 HR Mythbusters report shows that employees take fewer vacation days when they're unlimited (13) vs. when they're not.

an unlimited vacation policy sounds better than it is

And that's not the only issue. Inequality based on individual manager tastes is also something to consider. For example, one manager could let you travel for 2 months and another will always try to stall or not approve your vacation. 

Here's a great example of that happening to Robert Sweeney at Netflix:

"Nine months after I started working at Netflix, I told my manager that I would be out for three days in early January. His response: "But that's when we are launching our first international country!”

I hadn't done any work on the international launch because, for the past several months, I had been consistently working 80-90 hours a week and I was totally burnt out.I felt completely helpless. I also felt guilty about asking for time off.”

Sweeney's example is far from the only one. Over the years, we've heard a lot of stories of people experiencing burnout despite supposedly having "unlimited vacation.”

The issues don't end there, since it's not only about your good employees getting less than they need or deserve. An unlimited vacation is also a problem for your bad employees. They could leave you hanging when it matters the most or repeatedly take vacations in a short amount of time to the point it hurts the effectiveness of your team.

Instead, what seems to work better is having a defined number of days everyone gets, as well as:

  • Having executives and senior leadership set a good example by taking vacation (and showing how to set your team and peers up to succeed while you're gone).
  • Having a minimum you expect people to take and encourage managers to push their team members to take that time if they're not

Even though they sound like a great idea, unlimited vacation days pose more challenges than they bring benefits. Stick with a specified amount of days, and your team will have more balance and avoid burning out more easily.

What are Your Biggest Leadership Challenges? Let us Know!

At Lighthouse, we always want to give you the most actionable ways to improve.

What are your biggest leadership challenges right now?  Let us know by submitting your question for next week here. 

We'll anonymize anything needed to respect your privacy, and you'll get an answer to your biggest challenge right now. 

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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