Leadership Feedback

Feedback is an indispensable tool for one in the pursuit of success. While it is commonly given to employees by their superiors, the significance of leadership feedback cannot be underestimated. For those in management roles to truly unlock their full potential and that of the team, they too must learn to receive and embrace others’ assessment of their own doings.

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What is Leadership Feedback?

Leadership feedback refers to input concerning a leader’s performance or behavior. It involves team members offering insights and observations about their manager’s strengths, weaknesses, or decision-making abilities – based on which the superior may gain a comprehensive understanding of areas where they need to improve to make a more significant impact.

Feedback for leaders may be gathered through various methods, such as 360-degree assessments, performance evaluations, and informal discussions with one’s boss, peers, subordinates, mentors, coaches, or customers. By setting measurable goals with others based on the input received, one is better equipped to work towards continuous improvement.

Feedback for leaders

Why Does Leadership Feedback Matter?

In the context of leadership, feedback is generally given for the following primary purposes:

  • Enhance the team’s performance

We are all familiar with the traditional top-down feedback model, but what about the other way? Bottom-up feedback allows managers to gather valuable insights directly from their employees – including other members’ needs and areas that require improvement, which can later be incorporated into the decision-making process. This, in turn, helps improve the team’s overall performance and foster morale.

  • Develop leadership skills

Exceptional leaders understand the significance of receiving both positive and negative feedback from their subordinates. With honest feedback comes the opportunity for one to promote personal growth and fine-tune their management skills.

Receptiveness to input from others not only helps leaders improve their own performance – but also enables them to support their employees.

  • Enhance communication

The establishment of a channel for people to provide feedback fosters open and honest communication within the organization. When employees feel heard and valued, they are more likely to communicate openly, collaborate and contribute constructively to the team’s goals. This positive dynamic serves as a catalyst for decision-making and resolving day-to-day conflicts more efficiently.

3 Types of Leadership Feedback

  1. Solicited feedback

This involves people actively asking for opinions and insights from others about their behavior or performance. Solicited feedback is extremely valuable when done right, as it opens the door for honest and constructive input.

  1. Unsolicited feedback

Unsolicited feedback occurs when someone unexpectedly points out areas of improvement or faults in our behavior. It is a “blindside event” that reveals aspects of ourselves that we might not be aware of – or might not want to accept (also referred to as “blind spots” – traits that others see in us, but we are oblivious to – in the Johari Window model).

Despite it being much more difficult to embrace, unsolicited feedback is crucial to pave the way for dramatic changes.

Feedback blind spot

  1. Observational feedback

Observational feedback is unofficial and unspoken – often, we can only derive it from the actions and behaviors that other people have towards us. Specifically, one must observe how others react to their behavior, body language, or communication style. While it might be more abstruse and vague, this type of feedback enables us to come up with valuable insights that, if acted upon, can facilitate meaningful changes.

For example, a leader with an energetic personality may appear as aggressive in team debates. If he notices that other team members tend to stand far away from him or avoid engaging into arguments with him altogether, essentially he is receiving a subtle signal that his communication style needs improvement.

Challenges of Giving Leadership Feedback

The problem of leadership feedback – as highlighted by renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith in his book “What got you here won’t get you there” – revolves around the challenges of providing negative feedback to successful individuals, including:

  • Reluctance to hear negative feedback

The reason why successful people are reluctant to receive criticisms is deeply rooted in their sense of confidence and self-assurance. Having achieved a high level of success, they may be tempted to believe that they are superior performers compared to their peers, leading to an inflated perception of their abilities. This overconfidence creates a psychological barrier, causing them to be resistant to any form of negative input – and hindering their potential to reach greater heights.

Overcoming this problem requires the willingness to embrace humility and a growth mindset. As leaders, one must learn to recognize that constructive feedback is an essential aspect of personal and professional development. After all, nobody is perfect – even for highly successful individuals like you, there is always room for further improvement.

  • Hesitation to provide negative feedback

This tendency stems from our need to strike a balance between offering valuable insights for improvement and potentially challenging the accomplishment/ authority of leaders. As high achievers, they often have a proven track record of success, which may result in a perception of their infallibility – as well as make any critical feedback seem futile or unwelcome. Fear of reprisal or damaging working relationships deters many of us from delivering candid feedback.

  • Power dynamics

Leaders often hold influential positions with considerable authority, and their decisions can significantly impact the careers and livelihoods of their subordinates. As a result, employees may fear that delivering critical comments could jeopardize their working relationships or lead to potential retaliation.

To resolve this issue, leaders must learn to foster open communication and actively demonstrate that any negative feedback will be received constructively – so that employees are better encouraged to voice their opinions and concerns without fear of retribution.

Leadership feedback

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Leaders – The 4 Commitments

According to Marshall Goldsmith, to ensure that their input is well-received by the leader and generate positive outcomes, feedback givers should make sure to keep the following 4 commitments in mind:

  1. Letting go of the past

Instead of being mere critics, one should learn to adopt the role of helpers – and take on a future-focused approach that emphasizes the importance of looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. By letting go of past grievances or biases, we may approach the conversation with a genuine intention to support the recipient’s growth. This mindset transformation sets the stage for a more constructive and impactful feedback exchange.

When both the giver and receiver of feedback recognize that its purpose is to pave the way for a better future, they are better equipped to collaborate effectively towards improvement. On the leader’s side, they should be motivated to strive for better outcomes and move beyond the limitations of their past mistakes.

  1. Telling the truth

Honesty is a fundamental aspect of effective feedback. Under all circumstances possible, feedback givers should resist telling people what they want to hear instead of the truth – even if such a thing might be uncomfortable or challenging. Being transparent ensures that the recipient gets authentic insights – as well as helps both parties avoid wasting time on the wrong areas of improvement.

  1. Being supportive and helpful

Successful leaders often have their identities closely tied to their achievements and roles. For this reason, when providing feedback, it is crucial to focus on the task or behavior rather than making it about the person. Depersonalization shifts the emphasis from challenging the leader’s self-image to reflecting on areas that can be improved – which reduces the likelihood of defensive reactions and encourages open dialogues.

For example, a sales representative recognizes his manager’s habit in giving vague instructions – which has been causing him difficulty in understanding the manager’s expectations. Instead of saying ‘You are not helping’, the sales representative could say something like:

‘It’d be more helpful if you can give me clearer instructions’.

Read more: Passing Judgment – Why We Must Stop This Destructive Habit

  1. Picking something to improve themselves

One brilliant idea presented by Marshall Goldsmith through his experience in coaching is to encourage feedback givers to pick something to improve themselves. By doing so, one establishes a bond of mutual growth with the recipients, and motivates them to embrace others’ input as an opportunity for growth. This two-way exchange fosters an environment where everyone is focused on continuous improvement rather than being solely judged by others.

Leadership Feedback Examples

Positive leadership feedback:

  • You do a great job at leading by example. You set a positive example for your team members by being hardworking, reliable, and always willing to help out.
  • You do a great job at providing the necessary structure, direction, and feedback to all your employees. You are clear and concise in your communication, and you always provide your team members with the support they need to succeed.
  • You are always looking for ways to improve the team. You are proactive and always looking for ways to make the team more efficient and effective.
  • You are a great communicator. You are able to clearly and concisely communicate your vision and goals to your team members. You are also a good listener and are open to feedback.
  • You are able to build strong relationships with your team members. You create a positive and supportive work environment where everyone feels valued and respected.

Constructive leadership feedback:

  • I’ve noticed that you tend to micromanage your team members. This can be demotivating and make them feel like they’re not trusted. I would suggest giving them more autonomy and allowing them to make more decisions on their own.
  • I appreciate your willingness to take risks, but sometimes you take on too much at once. This can lead to stress and burnout. I would suggest setting more realistic goals and delegating tasks when possible.”
  • You’re a great communicator, but sometimes you can be too blunt. This can come across as rude or insensitive. I would suggest being more mindful of your tone and word choice.
  • You’re a great leader, but you can sometimes be too critical. This can make your team members feel like they’re never doing enough. I would suggest focusing on the positive and providing more constructive feedback.
  • You’re a great listener, but sometimes you don’t take action on the feedback you’re given. This can be frustrating for your team members and make them feel like their input is not valued. I would suggest making a point of following up on feedback and taking steps to implement it.

How to Ask for Leadership Feedback

As a leader seeking to ask for feedback, adopting a proactive and open approach is essential to build up an environment where employees feel comfortable providing honest and constructive input.

  1. Ask for criticism, especially as a boss

Overcoming the inherent power dynamics may prove to be challenging, but leaders should initiate the process by explicitly asking for criticism from their team. This willingness to be vulnerable and receptive to others’ ideas sets the tone for open communication – and encourages employees to share their insights without fear of retribution.

By embracing constructive criticism as a tool for learning and development – rather than a threat to their authority, leaders are equipped to build stronger relationships with their employees and build up a trust-based workplace.

  1. Embrace so-called “negative” emotions

Leadership feedback may not always be flattering, yet it is essential for one in management positions to grow and reach greater heights. Despite the negative feelings it may cause, we must learn to shift the focus from being defensive to actively seeking insights for improvement. Such a mindset shift is crucial to establishing more productive and fulfilling working relationships, benefiting both leaders and their teams.

  1. Have a go-to question

To establish psychological safety and encourage open dialogues, leaders can make use of a go-to question that invites feedback. This question should encourage employees to share their thoughts honestly and openly, creating a safe space for constructive criticism.

A tip for you is to come up with an open question – one that cannot be answered with either “yes” or “no”. This will allow you to initiate the conversation more easily, as well as help solicit more honest and detailed input.

Below are a few examples:

  • What are your thoughts on our current project management process?
  • How can we make our team meetings more productive?
  • What are some challenges you’re facing in your work?
  • What are your ideas for improving our company culture?
  • etc.
  1. Embrace the other party’s discomfort

It is natural for both the giver and receiver of feedback to feel uncomfortable during the process. However, leaders should resist the temptation to let employees off the hook or weasel away from difficult conversations.

When both parties acknowledge and validate their own discomfort, together they create an atmosphere of understanding and empathy that facilitates open and honest conversations.

  1. Listen to understand, not to respond

A mindset of genuine curiosity is vital for receiving feedback. Instead of formulating responses in their mind, leaders should actively listen to comprehend the perspectives being shared, so that others are more inclined to be honest in what they have to say. No matter how positive or negative the feedback is, always thank your employees for their opinions, and let them know that their ideas will be taken into consideration.

After a feedback session, make sure to follow up based on what has been discussed. When we take tangible steps to address others’ concerns and communicate the actions taken, we reinforce the value of employee input – while at the same time laying the foundation for a continuous feedback loop and a growth-oriented workplace culture.

Read more: Not Listening – The Silent Killer in the Workplace

  1. Make giving feedback a team habit

All leaders should encourage a culture where feedback is seen as constructive and valuable, rather than one in which people only vent about problems without seeking solutions. In doing so, they facilitate a collaborative environment that places a strong emphasis on innovation, problem-solving, and personal development – eventually enhancing team dynamics and driving the overall performance.

360 Degree Leadership Feedback Questions

Below are some 360 feedback questions for leadership that you may either ask yourself or others:

  • What are my strengths as a leader?
  • What are my weaknesses as a leader?
  • What are my biggest opportunities for growth as a leader?
  • How do I communicate effectively with my team?
  • How do I motivate and inspire my team?
  • How do I create a positive and productive work environment?
  • How do I make decisions that are in the best interests of my team and the company?
  • How do I handle conflict and disagreements?
  • How do I delegate tasks and responsibilities effectively?
  • How do I give and receive feedback effectively?
  • How do I stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in my field?
  • etc.

Tools for Effective Leadership Feedback

  • Johari Window: The Johari Window model aims to improve an individual’s perception of themselves through two core concepts: building trust by sharing information about oneself with others – and gaining self-awareness by learning from their feedback. Based on this framework, individuals may improve their self-awareness and build up trust within their interactions.
  • Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI): The SBI™ Feedback Model – developed by the Center for Creative Leadership – offers a straightforward structure for delivering effective on-the-spot feedback. After outlining the specific situation/ context for feedback, one moves on to addressing the precise behavior that needs discussion – before finally highlighting the impact of the person’s behavior on others.
  • 360-degree assessment: This is a comprehensive method that involves receiving performance feedback from multiple sources. Unlike traditional approaches that mostly rely on a single source, a 360-degree assessment provides a well-rounded view of a person’s performance, allowing them to gain insights into their strengths and weaknesses from various perspectives.
  • Feedforward: The feedforward technique – developed by Marshall Goldsmith himself – is a powerful and efficient exercise designed to foster personal development in a positive and focused manner. Instead of commenting on others’ past mistakes, participants are encouraged to engage in discussions about future possibilities.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, leadership feedback is a powerful tool for those in management positions to reach even greater heights on their professional journey. By learning to receive input from their peers, subordinates, and superiors, leaders are better equipped to facilitate changes that will lead to better results for the team/ organization as a whole.

Other resources you might be interested in:

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