The importance of feedback in leadership

Importance of feedback in leadership

Everyone who’s had a job will have heard an office conversation in which people profile the boss. Good or bad, most people figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the boss and are happy to compare notes by the coffee machine.

Yet if this individual’s shortcomings are obvious to the entire team, why isn’t feedback in leadership considered?

Why doesn’t leadership feedback happen in business?

Lack of interest? Disdain for the team? It’s rarely these things. Much more mundane, usually it’s simply that the boss doesn’t see or experience the “problem”. Not in the way others do!

In our book, Untangle Your Sales we rate this sales myth #5: My sales team will give me honest feedback if something’s going wrong.

Giving feedback to senior leaders (even harder if the boss runs the company!) is one of the hardest things to do in an organisation.

It follows then that finding a way to encourage feedback in leadership is a way of creating a culture that really sets apart your business. It can stop expensive cock-ups and it will engage and motivate your team. You really are all in it together.

We’re regularly asked to complete 360-degree feedback programmes for senior people, across all sorts of business sectors. All lead others. All set the agenda for where others are headed. All have significant and wide-ranging impact.  

Interestingly, most of them commission their own feedback. It’s not often hoisted upon them as a “development opportunity”.

How to respond to feedback in leadership

Everyone responds to feedback differently. If you think about it that’s not a surprise, but it’s revealing nonetheless.

Some are extraordinarily curious, wanting to understand the nuances around the statements and trends.

Some focus on certain key areas, whilst others want a wider, more general impression first before setting off into the minutiae.

Employees might be surprised to know that many leaders are quite nervous about receiving feedback and perturbed by what might be reported. Though often they turn out to be relieved and enthused by what is said.

For some the focus of their attention is all about where they should improve and how to do it. 

Something you might not expect is that many leaders display a tendency to focus on their development gaps and brush off or dash through their positive feedback.

A crucial part of these conversations is to ensure people spend time on the positives. There are often as many blind spots or opportunities to leverage these great traits as there are “issues to fix”.

Without consciously thinking about it, most leaders respond to feedback in their own way. The feedback conversation itself often displays a selection of the traits captured within the feedback report.

What should leaders do with feedback?

It’s often said that feedback is a gift. Sometimes the gift comes as a brick wrapped in a velvet glove, and it’s our job to ensure the way it’s delivered is positive and supportive.

Delivered this way almost all leaders we come across ask for help and support in one way or other from us or the people around them. It’s rarely wasted.

Of course there are exceptions to this.

Feedback for one leader highlighted a distinct lack of self-awareness and an inability to notice the negative impact this was having on others.

Their response to feedback was to celebrate the positives and reject the possibility of blind spots. Not surprisingly, no follow up or support was requested. Sometimes change can be a slow process.

How does feedback in leadership make a difference?

The very fact that people are invited to participate in 360 feedback is a massive positive. The simple difference is to thank people for taking part and let them know when you’ll be following up with them.

You might decide this is best done with a team if it’s easier for people to speak with others. Or if there are sensitive items it might be best one to one.

What’s really important at the end of this process is that your team believe action is intended. For some this will be a detailed action plan. Others will set out the 3 or 5 big things they want to work on.

People are remarkably tolerant and usually respond well to your attempts to change, even allowing for you not to get it right first time.

What’s important is that there is an ongoing feedback loop so you can constantly refine your new approach. It’s not a weakness to admit you’ve tried something different and ask people how it went.

There are good business reasons to solicit feedback in leadership. But better than this it’s something that makes you stronger and helps you feel better about yourself and those alongside you. Done well it can be a powerful drug. Give it a go!