16 Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback as a Leader

The advice to “know thyself” is often found in business books and articles.

In the workplace, one of the most effective areas to develop knowing thyself is in the giving and receiving of feedback. Leaders need to recognize how well they do this. Are they known for criticizing more than praising? Are they known as someone who dishes it out but can’t take it?

Extensive research confirms that leaders do not receive feedback unless they ask for it on a regular basis. Even senior direct reports are afraid the leader may kill the messenger.

The fastest way to build trust

A 2017 study for Harvard Business Review and Forbes surfaced that leaders carry inaccurate beliefs about the value and benefits of different forms of feedback.

Leaders vastly underestimate the necessity of regular positive reinforcement and greatly overestimate the value of corrective feedback – especially when not enough positive feedback has been given.

The fastest way to build trust is by “finding the good and praising it.” According to varied neuroscience research and scientists such as Paul Zak, Ph.D., recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met. It’s also more impactful when it comes from direct supervisors and peers, and when it is tangible, unexpected, personal and public.

Public recognition not only uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, but also inspires others to aim for excellence. And it gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices.

What’s holding leaders back

In her book Dare to Lead, researcher Brene Brown, Ph.D. says, “We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Some leaders [in my research] attributed this to a lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and, shockingly, more than half talked about a cultural norm of ‘nice and polite’ that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid tough conversations.”

According to Brown, the data showed that the consequence is a lack of clarity, diminishing trust and engagement, and an increase in problematic behavior, talking behind people’s backs, pervasive back-channel communication (or the ‘meeting after the meeting’), gossip, and the ‘dirty yes’ (when I say yes to your face and then no behind your back).

Mastering feedback is a more complex issue than it first appears to be. Here are a few tips I have learned in administering “Exceptional Leader 360 Feedback Tools.”

Giving feedback

  • Be kind. Remember that “May I give you some feedback” are not easy words to hear.
  • Find the good and praise – in public. Criticize in private. Praise at least three times more than criticize. Don’t praise someone so you can then criticize them.
  • Ask for permission to give feedback and confirm that the time is right for the other person.
  • Describe behavior using specific examples (what did the video camera see and hear?) and the effects on you and others. Include how you personally feel about it.
  • Deliver the perfect dose of feedback to each person at the right timecheck in with the receiver after each point. Everyone has a different level of sensitivity to feedback.
  • Identify the results that you hope the feedback will produce.
  • Follow up within a few days.
“Leaders vastly underestimate the necessity of regular positive reinforcement and greatly overestimate the value of corrective feedback.”

Receiving feedback

  • Practice smart vulnerability (being open at the right times in the right ways to competent and kind people) so it is easy for associates to speak with you at any time.
  • Be honest about whether it is a good time for you to receive feedback. If not, ask if it can be re-scheduled.
  • See feedback in the present and try not to confuse it with past relationships.
  • Be curious about blind spots. Ask for as much detailed information as possible.
  • Let the deliverer know how the feedback is affecting you. If it is too much, say that you would prefer a second session to hear the remainder of the feedback.
  • Paraphrase what you think you have heard.
  • Thank the person and seek specific suggestions for further action.
  • If the feedback is re-directing you in some way and you can immediately see the validity of it, make a commitment to change your behavior.
  • Follow up within a few days and report on what changes you have made.

Remember that a feedback-rich culture is the root system for all organizational growth.

Norm Smookler has been a YPO certified forum facilitator since 2012. He started facilitating executive retreats in 1990 using an Otto Scharmer type U-Theory process. Smookler is a Certified Comprehensive Mediator, Executive Coach, and Adult Educator and teaches a simple approach to conflict de-escalation. He co-founded a large construction company and served concurrently on 15 boards of directors, including 10 years as CEO for the Grand Tea Master of Japan. Smookler is the author of a well received book, is a passionate music composer/performer and has recorded a dozen CDs and three documentary sound tracks.