In another episode of Simply Feedback, we speak with Dr. Kathryn Burkgren, a certified Presence-Based Executive Coach, as she shares her advice on giving difficult feedback and how she overcame personal challenges with dyslexia to get the career she wanted.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren is a certified Presence Based Coach and ICF ACC accredited executive coach. She integrates her knowledge of education, human resources, organizational culture, and transformational leadership to help leaders perform and achieve results. She received the NCCI Brent Ruben Award for her efforts at turning the organization around through her leadership. Kathryn is an executive coach for Cornell's faculty and staff, graduate leadership programs, as well as the National Grocers Association, the National Association of Convenience Stores and BLG.
Troy Blaser (00:05):
Hello on today's episode of Simply Feedback, we are delighted to speak with Dr. Kathryn Burkgren. Kathryn is a certified Presence Based Coach and ICF ACC accredited executive coach. She integrates her knowledge of education, human resources, organizational culture, and transformational leadership to help leaders perform and achieve results. She received the NCCI Brent Ruben Award for her efforts at turning the organization around through her leadership. Kathryn is an executive coach for Cornell's faculty and staff, graduate leadership programs, as well as the National Grocers Association, the National Association of Convenience Stores and BLG. Kathy, it's so great to have you on the podcast today. Welcome.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (00:51):
It's wonderful to be here with you, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity.
Troy Blaser (00:56)
Thanks. I'm excited to chat with you today. As you know, the podcast is called Simply Feedback, and I love to start out with this question about feedback and wonder if you could tell us about a time that somebody gave you feedback, feedback that had a significant impact on you. Is there a story that you can share with us to help us get to know you a little bit?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (01:18)
Absolutely. I have given and received a lot of feedback over the years, which is a good thing. So I have given and received a lot of feedback over the years. And my example is related to giving feedback around 1995, I was in a new role as an executive staff assistant to the then vice president for facilities in campus services and the director of administration at Cornell University. And I was sharing something with the director of administration that led her to ask me, have you given the person feedback? And my response was not yet. And so she asked me if I would go give the person feedback and then come back and I didn't have to report everything that was shared. I just needed to report how it went. Interestingly enough, I went and I gave the feedback and I came back and I was sharing that with her.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (02:14)
And she said to me, was it resolved? And so her feedback to me when my answer was no, was, I want you to go back, reshare the feedback, give it directly, and honestly, and then come back and make sure the issue is resolved before you come back. And I did that. And the reason I shared that is because it taught me multiple things. It taught me that I needed to be much better at giving and receiving feedback. I was still early on in my career and I had meandered around in giving the feedback and that wasn't helpful. I didn't want to hurt the person. So I wasn't clear, I wasn't concise. I wasn't direct. And I could just remember all the things that I learned through that process. And also if you're familiar with Myers-Briggs type indicator, I'm an ENFP, or I'm an extrovert, intuitive, feeling perceiver.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (03:13)
And so giving feedback was not a comfortable thing for me, that became a learned skill. And so I think for anybody giving and receiving feedback it's to know that you can learn that skill. And the main reason was I didn't want to hurt people. I didn't want to feel badly myself. I didn't want people to be upset with me. And so clear feedback is so important and I really have had to perfect it over time. And so when teaching about giving and receiving, receiving feedback, now, I often use the scene from the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt. When Brad Pitt is playing Billy Beane and he tells his colleague to tell him, let a player go. And I don't remember the colleague's name or the actor's name. Anyway, the colleague has to tell him he's being transferred to another team. And that young colleague is nervous.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (04:12)
They're unsure what to say. And Brad Pitt as Billy Beane says something like, “Say as little as possible in other words, say it clearly and succinctly and don't meander around.” And I always use that phrase from the movie. I don't know if it's exact, I'm not giving an exact quote, but basically say as little as possible, be clear, be direct, be concise, be candid, and it will all work out all right. And if you do it because you want the person to grow and develop, they will feel that. If you're giving feedback because you want to be right and you want them to be wrong, the feedback won't land well.
Troy Blaser (04:52)
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (04:53)
So it's about being clear and direct and truly meaning what you're saying behind the feedback.
Troy Blaser (04:59)
That makes a lot of sense. I really liked that story. One of the things that stuck out to me as you, as you told that story was you went and gave the feedback and then came back to report and she said, was it resolved? So you thought you had given feedback, but you weren't sure if, if it had all been resolved and it's kind of the point is that feedback is, needs to go both directions. You can give the feedback, but you need to also understand if that feedback is being received and how it's being received and you know, if it's gonna make a difference.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (05:30)
Absolutely, totally agree.
Troy Blaser (05:33)
What a great lesson for you to learn, you know, early in your career that has sort of set you on a, on a pathway as far as feedback goes. Just a great lesson to learn.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (05:45)
I definitely I'm happy that I have such good mentors along the way to help me learn those kinds of things.
Troy Blaser (05:52)
Yeah. So you are in organizational development in executive coaching. Will you tell us a little bit about how you got started or how you ended up where you're at now? Why is it a passion for you? Some of your background.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (06:06)
I definitely will. And I'm going to start you way back. So I grew up on an 850 acre dairy farm in Southeastern Minnesota, as I say, 10 miles away from everywhere. Our nearest neighbors were not very close, probably a half mile to a mile. And so it was myself and my parents and my four older sisters on the farm. Why does that matter? So at a very young age, I learned to do all kinds of work and in that environment, because I was a youngest, when my dad couldn't get back to milk, or to do chores. I was somewhat in charge of everything going on outside. And so I think that's where I started to learn my leadership skills added to that. I was in 4-H and I was in the Future Farmers of America and held many leadership and speaking positions. And then I went to Iowa State University and interestingly K through 12 and undergrad were challenging for me. I was actually dyslexic, or I would say I also have dyslexia with math and numbers or dyscalcula.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (07:14)
And I had to study a lot to understand certain things to make sense of them. And I learned later I have something called interest based learning and that interest based learning is around leadership. Anything that had to do with that topic just made sense to me. And so somehow I made it through undergrad and everything else. And when I was at Cornell, I decided that I wanted to go back and get my master's degree. And so I thought I can't, I can't be a Cornell student. I struggled through school and the reality is I got to Cornell and I was able to learn in a much different way. It wasn't so much about taking tests. It was about theories and conceptualizing and doing those kinds of things. And I really excelled in that space. And so I was in the role with the executive vice president for facilities and campus services and the director of administration when I said to them, I would like to go back and get my master's degree and so they said, you know, yes. And I talked to my husband about it and I went to have my advisor sign off on it. And he said, I will only grant your master's degree if you also sign up to get a PhD. And so my point there is surround yourself with people who challenge you. Because if I hadn't been challenged, I would have never done that, but I was doing my PhD. And I said, I, I want to do it in anything other than leadership, because I so much of what I do is around leadership. But reality was my chair said, make sure you study something you're passionate about. The thing I'm passionate about that I will never get sick of is leadership. And so that's how I ended up studying leadership and organizational development.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (09:11)
I went in and started by studying educational psychology, and then all of my PhD classes for the most part are in organizational development, organizational behavior organizational effectiveness, those kinds of things. And that's where I got started in doing the kind of work that I'm doing. And I was in the organization and I was asked to take on a role in organizational development. And I took on that role on soon, I was asked to start managing a few years later that particular group, and then I was asked to be the Director of Organizational Effectiveness. And then I was asked to take on a role university-wide in terms of leading the organizational development and effectiveness group. And I have just continued to advance in that, in those various roles since then.
Troy Blaser (10:05)
So all the way along in terms of getting your graduate degrees, and even in terms of your career, you've, you've continued to have people around you who have challenged you to take that additional step up or step forward in your education and your career to take the next step. And it sounds like you've really excelled. That's fantastic. So you are working there at Cornell, in organizational development, organizational effectiveness. What are some of the challenges that, that you see and in particular, how do you use feedback to help with some of those challenges?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (10:44)
Ah, good question. So in terms of challenges that I see, first of all, I would say there's enough supervisors and colleagues overall that do not have the courage to give feedback for any myriad of reasons. So if I could share one thing with people, it would be have the courage to give feedback, to have the courage to receive feedback. We now embed how to give and receive feedback into multiple trainings that we do, our leadership development programs, a program that we have called performance at Cornell. And when you're doing that, you're showing that you care for the person you're honoring them and you're seeing them as a person. And this goes back toward the work that we do. That's based on Arbinger work or leadership, and self-deception, they also have a new book Outward Mindset. And so it's about when you care for someone giving that feedback that is going to help them grow and develop, help them advance their career is actually seeing them as a person, honoring them as a person. And that's the number one challenge.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (11:52)
I see people are afraid to do it. They don't have the courage to do it. And so the reality is when you give people feedback directly, they actually respect you more. The second thing is currently with the pandemic talent development has been more often than not put on the back burner by organizations, you know, probably worldwide and not completely, but people have been so busy reacting to the pandemic that it's hard to have the bandwidth to do the, you know, management. And so I think that's a challenge. And also, I think sometimes senior leaders are hesitant to have conversations with high performers for fear that the high performer may not have a good year the next year, and they may have to have that conversation with them. So sometimes they don't have a conversation at all. And so I think it's just important to constantly be giving and receiving feedback and doing that in a way that a person feels heard, so they know how they're doing and they feel valued. And I'm actually really fortunate that right now I have a supervisor who does give me a considerable amount of feedback to help me grow and develop. And so the more people we can get to do that, the better we'll be. And that's, those are the three things I would say are most important.
Troy Blaser (13:21)
I really like that. I liked the way that you said you've embedded the skill of giving and receiving feedback into your programs, because it really is a skill. It's not something that necessarily comes naturally to people to supervisors, especially to, to give that feedback. It can be an uncomfortable part of the job. And so to really focus on that as a skill and to say, here are some ways that you can improve at giving feedback and receiving feedback I think can really makes a difference.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (13:55)
Troy Blaser (13:57)
Over your years as a coach you mentioned earlier on that you've had lots of opportunities to give feedback. Can you share with us an experience or a time when you've seen feedback cause a point of inflection in someone else's career or in their life that's had an impact on them for good or bad?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (14:17)
Yeah. I actually have a couple of examples. And so a number of years ago I had a direct report that I was going to need to let go if their performance didn't improve. I was the third supervisor the person had had, and to make a long story short after six months where we had set expectations, set goals and there wasn't progress. One day we were in a conversation and I just said from the bottom of my heart, honestly, that I valued them. I cared for them. I loved them. And I know that's not something you could say to everyone, but I did say it and I wanted them to be successful. And I really did mean all of those things. And I just said, I don't know what else to do. Like I really don't know what else to do. I want you to hear again though that I value you. I care for you. I love you. And I want you to be successful.
Troy Blaser (15:20)
This was very heartfelt feedback it sounds like.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (15:22)
Like very heartfelt feedback. And explain that if things didn't turn around that we were going to have to go down a different road. And so the next day that person came into me and they asked me if they could give me a hug. And they said, no one had ever said in a workplace that they were cared for, that they were loved that, you know, somebody wanted them to be successful. It was all about getting the work done, getting the work, done, getting the work done. And they had tears in their eyes. And you know, that person was a high performer from that point on for jobs as long as we've worked together. And so I think that feedback can have a really huge impact. And then another example is when I gave someone feedback who was doing some things in the organization that were causing a disruption and the impact that that had, and me saying directly if it's going to impact your career, I know you want to take your career places. It is going to impact your career if this particular behavior doesn't stop. And so that had a huge impression on that particular person too. And to this day it was literally overnight, they stopped the behavior and they have been able to be really successful. So I think feedback is absolutely critical and we really do honor the other person when we share feedback with them.
Troy Blaser (17:05)
That's fantastic. That's great, you know, direct feedback, but also heartfelt feedback, honest feedback are the kinds of feedback that as you've shown with these stories really can make a difference to people in their careers and probably personally as well.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (17:23)
Absolutely. And a book that I really liked that we utilize is Radical Candor and with radical candor, it's about challenging directly and caring deeply. And I think critical elements when giving feedback
Troy Blaser (17:39)
Those are great principles. I love that.
Troy Blaser (18:47)
Now I know that you have a lot of training programs there in your area at Cornell. Tell us about some of the programs that you're especially proud of or excited about.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (18:58)
All right. So when I talk about the programs, I can't talk about the programs without talking about all the teams that I've worked on since 1993, when the programs began. Currently I have an absolutely amazing team. We develop all of our programs inhouse. The first leadership program was developed in 1993, and we have continuously redesigned that program and our turning point program for frontline staff. They're both five day programs and we are currently redesigning it again to give it an equity, diversity and inclusion framework much more deeply than it has had and through all of these developments over all these years, the original content still exists. Some of it does the core concepts and we include new content. And so participants are nominated by supervisors or they can self-nominate. Usually we have waiting lists for people to get in. We try to offer the programs, you know, as often as we can.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (20:02)
So we don't have a waiting list. And I can imagine after the pandemic, it's going to be a challenge because we haven't had any in-person programming and this is one pro these are our in-person leadership programs are experiential and they're interactive and not something that you could easily convert online because of the case studies and simulations that we do, we offer a program called Leader As Coach. And that leader is coach program is really about teaching people to be coaches. When I say teaching people to be coaches, it's about teaching people to be coaches, giving feedback when it's required asking questions to help them grow and develop. And so those are programs I'm really of, but I'm also really proud of the programs that our team has delivered from March until now, if I look at it, we've really divided that time up into two month periods where we did some from March to June, we developed more remote programming from June to September, and we developed an advancing diversity equity and inclusion program along with our colleagues in inclusion, workforce diversity. So we've been busy and it's been fun.
Troy Blaser (21:21)
Well, busy is good. I mean so many things have had to be adapted here during the pandemic. There's no question about it. And what I, what I really liked as you told us about that was not only have you adapted because of the pandemic, in terms of putting things online and making them accessible in ways that are not in person, but also you've been adapting your programs based on feedback apart from the pandemic to say, well, the program needs to adapt in this way because the work environment has changed, you know, in terms of diversity and inclusion, for example. And so work environments are different today than they were 15 years ago. And it sounds like you're really adapting the programs to keep them current.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (22:07)
We are, and it's been fun to do it, and we've enjoyed our work together. I mean, that's part of a pandemic that we could either have fun, enjoy one another's company, enjoyed being innovative and creative together, or we could worry and wonder what this was going to do to our roles and our jobs overall, given the impact that it has. And we all decided to have fun and innovate together and we truly have.
Troy Blaser (22:35)
Well, that's great. It's wonderful to have a great team that you really just enjoy working with like that. I wanted to ask a little bit about the volunteering that you do. I understand that you volunteer with with NCCI, which is the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation in Higher Education, but that you've also spent time as an adaptive ski instructor or as a coach helping those with disabilities as they are able to get out onto the slopes. Will you tell us some more about your experiences with those two probably broadly different areas? Tell us about your experience with those volunteer programs.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (23:17)
Absolutely. I would love to. So first I'll talk about the adaptive ski instructor. That started because my late husband lost his right leg due to a septic infection. He had had a kidney transplant and gotten multiple septic infections over the years. And when he lost it, like a colleague that happened by my office Monday day, suggested that we have him come to the Greek peak adaptive snow sport program, which is in New York at Greek peak resort. He started the program and our three daughters either skied or snowboard. And I did not. So I learned to ski at age 42, and that involve what me tell you my left knee knows it now. I learned to ski at 42 and I started helping with the program. And I just found working with folks was just an amazing experience. They are also talented in their own way, no matter what their ability or disability is.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (24:19)
And every week I learned more from them than they ever learned from me. And I have such fun. They were, you know, for the most part, 98% of the time just filled with joy and laughter being out there. And I haven't been able to participate in that program as much the last two years because I have grandchildren now. And also I volunteer at the temple every other Saturday as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So you need to volunteer X number of Saturdays in order to keep up with it. And so I love it and I enjoyed the 12 or 13 years that I did that. And if I have an opportunity, I will definitely do it again.
Troy Blaser (25:06)
Well, grandchildren are also a worthwhile volunteer cause that's for sure, right?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (25:11)
Oh, they are. They have fed my soul during COVID. I can tell you that much. And then I became involved in NCCI in 2005, when a colleague couldn't go to Hawaii to make a presentation of all places. So I flew out to Hawaii with about five days’ notice.
Troy Blaser (25:34)
Hey but it's Hawaii, right? So it makes it a little better.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (25:36)
Well, that's right. I came back and I said, this is the organization to belong to if you're in higher ed, because that's where leaders who are change leaders, hang out together, exchange ideas together, create together. It's an amazing organization. And my involvement increased over the years and I was asked to apply to be on the board and then shortly after to serve as president of that organization and between both it and the Greek peak adaptive program, they're both amazing volunteer organizations and I've met so many people and I've had many great experiences. And that includes leaving NCCI through the downturn. After the recession in 2009, 2010, we were wondering if the organization was going to have to close down and we just decided, we're going to figure out how we move this organization forward and help it thrive. And so ever since then, the organization is truly thriving and it was a wonderful thing to be able to do.
Troy Blaser (26:44)
I imagine you had to involve feedback as part of your work with NCCI as well in terms of improving the organization and you know, making the changes needed after the recession and things like that.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (26:56)
Absolutely and the full organization is volunteer. Every organization that I work with is all volunteer. So, you know, you're not only giving feedback, you're giving feedback to volunteers. So it's about finding the right way to say what needs to be said. And as we said before, doing it with heart,
Troy Blaser (27:16)
It is, it's a different scenario when you're giving feedback in a volunteer organization, isn't it because it's not necessarily a supervisor employee relationship, but it is, Hey, we're both here volunteering our time, but I still kind of want you to know some feedback because I think you'll, you'll appreciate knowing this and, and it'll change how you volunteer and how you spend your time.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (27:40)
Absolutely. I totally agree with that. And you know, you want it to be enjoyable for everybody
Troy Blaser (27:47)
Yeah. For sure. So Kathy, in terms of working with a volunteer organization, like NCCI, are there differences in the way you approach giving and receiving feedback? Do you have to approach that differently than in an organization where it's a supervisor or a manager giving feedback to an employee?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (28:05)
I think it comes from the mindset we come from. Arbinger would say, you're either responsive to people and you see them as people and you honor what's right to do for them or your resistance to someone and we see them as an object, not meaning to, we just something causes to see them as an object and we betray what's right to do for them. So I think the critical thing to keep in mind is seeing people with an outward mindset. When we're seeing someone with an outward mindset, we are not thinking of ourselves and how we're going to be impacted or thinking about the person, how it's going to help them, how it's going to help them be more productive, how it's going to help them learn versus an inward mindset. We're really thinking about ourselves. So we're self-justifying about why, whatever we're thinking about it, we are right to feel the way we do about it.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (29:09)
And so for me, it really comes down to mindset. What is the mindset that you are in when you are giving someone feedback? And so if you know that you're in a mindset where it's about you, when you want to be right, and you want to self-justify, then I would say, you don't give the feedback in that moment. You figure out how you can be presenting it from an outward mindset and truly have to feel that outward mindset. Because if I don't, you will pick up on it, you will suffer if you are the one receiving the feedback. And so I'm not sure it's different, it's the mindset that's different that you go into giving feedback with whether it's somebody that's in a volunteer organization or somebody in your own organization. And so for me, it's about always helping people understand how much you value them, how you don't want to layer it like a sandwich as people talk about that, how you value them and then giving the feedback clearly concisely in as few words as possible, asking them to respond and then figuring out a solution together. And so when you do that, I think the steps remain the same.
Troy Blaser (30:27)
That makes a lot of sense. I think from my experience that the one difference in a volunteer organization is that if even after giving the feedback, the person maybe doesn't change or doesn't, quite do the job in the way that you would like them to additional patience is required in that volunteer scenario. That maybe when you're in a corporate environment, there's less patience with those folks who aren't quite performing the way that they need to be. If that makes sense.
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (31:00)
It does. I mean, I can see that. In order to really help people perform to the absolute best of their ability, I think we have to understand that we all have room for error. We can all make mistakes. We all have things to learn. And so it's about setting that environment.
Troy Blaser (31:25)
I like that. Well, Kathy this has really been a fantastic conversation. I've enjoyed getting to know you a little bit and to hear a lot about the programs and the work that you're doing there at Cornell and in these volunteer organizations. If people want to know more or if they wanted to continue the conversation with you, would you be open to that?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (31:47)
I absolutely would.
Troy Blaser (31:50)
Wonderful. Are there particular ways that people can reach you via email or LinkedIn? Or is there a preference that you have?
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (31:59)
Yep. Yeah, I'm on LinkedIn. That's one I probably don't check it as often as I should. I don't tend to take phone calls unless I know where it's coming from.
Troy Blaser (32:23)
I think a lot of us are like that these days. Well, thanks again for joining us on today's episode of Simply Feedback. It's been wonderful to have you with us. Thanks so much, Kathy!
Dr. Kathryn Burkgren (32:34)
You are very welcome and I've enjoyed it.