For leaders, disappointing people comes with the job. When the people we coach or parent are not ready for the next challenge or have not earned the reward they have worked toward, we are obligated to tell them that their efforts have fallen short of the goal.
In many cases, the person on the receiving side of this feedback is not in agreement, making this conversation even more difficult. We have a natural tendency to explain our decision and to prove to this disappointed person why they have fallen short. This compounds the hard feelings they experience.
The best leaders take a different tack. They use a common phrase that conveys optimism and also allows for an honest discussion of what needs to be done in the future to obtain the prize or reward: “Not Yet.” “Not Yet” encourages others to work even harder and not to engage in the self-pity of failure. When a hard-working direct report has not earned the promotion they desire, or a colleague is not ready to cover a prized client, or an athlete will not make the final roster of players, try the conversation that begins with “Not Yet.”
“Not Yet” is hugely optimistic without making a promise. It conveys an optimism that with hard work and dedicated practice, it is only a matter of time before the outcome might be achieved. When you tell someone in the spirit of honest feedback, “You don’t measure up,” “You don’t have the talent,” or “You haven’t earned the grade,” you deflate their desire to work ever harder to achieve. Feedback, no matter how accurate, should never rob others of their desire to excel. That’s why the best leaders marry encouragement with honest assessment. “Not Yet” does this by focusing on a brighter future.