Giving honest, immediate feedback is a leader’s first job

feedbackWhat’s one behavior that I consistently see in great leaders? They consistently give great feedback, both good and bad, to those around them.

Think about the best person on your team — the high performer who is always prepared, takes initiative and constantly ups her game. I bet you think about her sometimes and say, “If only I could have 10 people like that!” Think for a minute about how that person takes feedback. How does she respond when you tell her she has done something terrific? How does she  respond when you give her a tip or a pointer about how she could do better? She loves it, right?

The best people in any organization love feedback.

Now think about the person who is at the opposite end of the spectrum — the person who is barely hanging on, doesn’t take charge or grab hold of the horns. How does she feel about feedback? Does she get defensive? Does she shut down, cry, or throw it right back at you?

Poor performers usually hate feedback.

So as leaders sometimes we get the message back from our team (perhaps made up of average to below-average performers), “Don’t give us so much feedback. We don’t want to know what we can do better.” Sure they like praise, who doesn’t? But you want a team filled with those first team members, the ones who want to get better and are practically begging you for feedback.

So, if you want a team of top performers — give more feedback.

But it’s not just the quantity of feedback you give — it’s also about how you give it. Effective feedback has 4 characteristics:

  1. Timely
    The best time to give feedback is right away. Don’t stop a meeting and berate someone, but at the end of a meeting pull someone into your office or ask one person to hang back. Then take 5 minutes and tell them something they did well, or something that they could do better. If you can’t do it that minute, then at least do it by the end of the day. The sooner you give feedback, the more impact it can have.
  2. Focused
    When you are taking a golf lesson (or any kind of lesson) the pro doesn’t give you 100 things to think about or work on. Most often he’s just giving you one thing to focus on, then once you’ve got that working well, and you’ve practiced it for a while, then he can give you another. Your feedback should be the same way. Stick to one item. Be clear about the behavior that you saw, then let the person know that you a) want to see more of that — good work, or b) you’d like to see him handle that differently.
  3. Points the way forward
    Good feedback is future-oriented, giving people something to move toward, not something to move away from. When you tell someone, “I never want you to say that again,” that says what not to do, but isn’t very helpful about what he could or should be doing. Try offering your feedback in the form of “I wish…” or “I’d like to see…” or “How could we…” These phrases offer a direction for the person to pursue.
  4. Recognizes good as well as bad.
    Recognizing positive trends and improvements is just as important as correcting the negative or aberrant behaviors. Don’t fall into the trap of only providing correction, or only offering praise. Again, your best performers want to get better (correction) but also want to be recognized for their improvements.

Giving feedback is a leader’s most important job. If you see yourself in that role you need to develop that skill, just like you would any other.

How do you give effective feedback? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?

See also: Great leaders are open to hearing feedback

Brad Farris

As principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, Brad Farris has experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Prior to joining Anchor Advisors, Brad spent over 10 years managing business units for a family-owned conglomerate with sales of $2 million to $25 million.
When not working Brad enjoys cycling, cooking and the NFL. He is married with 5 children and lives in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.