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Warnocking & Leadership

Even if you don’t work in the HR space, you know that feedback is important. It’s how we learn & develop. If it’s well delivered, feedback is engaging. It’s a gift.

Warnock’s Dilemma 

Those of you who blog may be familiar with the phenomenon that is called Warnock’s Dilemma. If you are not then there is a good description on Wikipedia here and even a dedicated website here
The problem it describes comes from a lack of response to a posting. Any blogger will be familiar with posts that don’t attract comments – sometimes it can be quite discomforting. Warnock’s Dilemma explains this lack of feedback as being for 1 of 5 different reasons: 
  1. The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There’s nothing more to say except “Yeah, what he said.” 
  2. The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out. 
  3. No one read the post, for whatever reason. 
  4. No one understood the post, but won’t ask for clarification, for whatever reason. 
  5. No one cares about the post, for whatever reason. 
Whether you blog or not, it all makes perfect sense doesn’t it… so what? 
Well, have a think about the 5 different reasons and replace the word “post” with “Executive Communication”. It’s a slightly different perspective isn’t it… More than that, I think it perhaps illuminates some broader issues. 

Leaders hide their discomfort 

We know that dealing with ambiguity is part of the leadership role, along with the need for strong communication skills. 
Often this means we develop leaders who are able to function without much feedback and are able to communicate strongly, sometimes perhaps in a way that even stifles feedback. I suspect that the combination conspires against leaders receiving the feedback they need, as humans. 
To not get the feedback you need as a human. That would feel discomforting wouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it? More than that, doesn’t that lack of feedback limit learning and development? 
Organisations that recognise this develop leaders to have strong reciprocal communications skills and can both give & elicit feedback effectively.
Take a look around your organisation. I’d guess there may be leaders you can see who don’t function at this level.  Are they learning & developing as they need to? Are they hiding their discomfort? 

Warnock’s Dilemma is incomplete 

Warnock’s Dilemma is great but it’s important to recognise its origins are in the online world of forum posting 10 years ago. I believe there are 4 other reasons people don’t contribute to postings & blogs which we already understand from the corporate world. 
  • The post is good/bad but the writer is weak at eliciting feedback. 
  • The post is good/bad but the readers’ feedback skills are weak. 
  • The post is good/bad but the reader has no time to comment. 
  • The post is good/bad but the reader does not care enough about you to “gift” you their feedback. 
I think these are accurate additions but test them. Replace the word “post” with “Executive Communication” or something else that you find relevant. 

What do you think? What else would you add to Warnock’s Dilemma? 

Self-Leadership Postcript 

If we are interested in feedback and dialogue on ourselves then I believe it helps to be aware of the various reasons why others may not comment. The issue could be us; it could be others; it could just be circumstantial.  If we feel discomfort or are not getting the feedback we need then the only positive remedy is to solicit feedback from people whose opinion we care about. 
If we read the work of others who actively or passively seek feedback & comments, what stops us from doing so? Feedback is a gift. If you are time poor then why not find quick ways to share your sentiments? If you disagree why not tell the author?   If you don’t care then why are you reading their work – really think about why.
As leaders or advocates of feedback we know the value of walking the talk.  How much walking the talk do you need to demonstrate in the world of social media?
It’s a personal decision but perhaps this really is the dilemma that comes from Warnock….


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