Change Your Leadership Game by Honing Your Feedback Skills

Become a Better Leader: Practice Constructive Feedback

The phrase “born leader” is often used to describe the world’s most transformational and inspiring leaders, coaches, and mentors.

For some, leadership comes naturally; for others it is a skill that must be learned, cultivated, and refined.

My client Alex is a programming development manager at a pioneering high tech software company. Alex is highly motivated and perseverant. In his personal life that translates to a love of challenging outdoor activities like rock climbing and other adventurous sports. He is active and fit and takes a competitive approach to almost everything he does.

At work, Alex’s ambitious and competitive nature creates a commanding presence and he is considered by his managers to be a results-driven leader who consistently finds innovative ways to meet company goals.

However, Alex has recently begun to notice that the feedback he has been providing to his team has not been effective in motivating them to improve their performance or to produce results aligned with company goals.

After discussing with Alex the dynamic between him and his team and how he communicates with them, we narrowed the root cause to the team’s negative perception of the way Alex delivers feedback.

Alex’s driven disposition is causing him to come across as pushy, aggressive, and forceful, causing his team to disengage. This attitude is preventing his feedback from influencing their performance.

To address Alex’s challenges, we discussed the most effective ways to motivate employees through feedback.

1) Make feedback genuine.

People are likely to pick up on the true intention behind feedback whether it’s communicated through language or nonverbal cues such as tone or body language. It’s essential, therefore, that when delivering feedback, the intention behind it stems from a genuine desire to serve the person who is receiving the feedback,  and that it is delivered in a sincere and supportive way. Otherwise, employees will be less likely to take the feedback to heart and use it to improve performance.

2) Understand that feedback is subjective — an interpretation of  behavior.

Pay close attention to your language signals. Using phrases such as “I think” or “I noticed” conveys to the receiver that the observation about their performance is subjective to the giver and isn’t intended as an indictment. “I” language encourages open dialogue between the giver and the receiver that allows both side to better address the issue or behavior without defensiveness and rancor. By conveying an opinion, you leave room for the receiver to save face and be more receptive to change.

3) Deliver feedback in the moment (or soon after).

Feedback is almost always most effective when delivered immediately following an undesirable behavior or situation. According to an Achiever’s Intelligence poll, over 60% of employees like to receive immediate “on-the-spot” feedback from their managers. This allows the employee the opportunity to immediately change their behavior and then be recognized for it, which will lead to higher engagement and a higher sense of motivation.

4) The goal of feedback is encouraging excellence not causing embarrassment.

Nobody wants to be belittled or treated with condescension. It’s counterproductive and a morale killer. Conversely, providing feedback in a respectful way and in the context of an employee’s positive contributions is very effective.

As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”  

Delivering feedback that is constructive (rather than critical) and inspirational (rather than disparaging) will be much more effective in motivating and improving the performance of individuals and teams.


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