Leaders and Feedback – How to Get it and How to Give It


I was chatting with a colleague the other day, and the subject of feedback came up. She mentioned to me the difficulty she was having in getting meaningful feedback from her management. She felt that she was doing a good job at work, but like most of us, she wanted to improve. Feedback would certainly help!

In another conversation, an HR leader I spoke with mentioned the same problem but from a different perspective. She was bemoaning the fact that her managers were bringing her situations where employees needed to be terminated, and yet there was no evidence (or at least not enough evidence) of feedback being given from the manager to the employee leading up to the desire for termination.

It has also been noted in studies and in my own experience that when the Millennial generation joined the workforce, feedback was desired at a level not yet seen in the workplace. Where annual reviews had been accepted as the norm, this new generation demanded almost daily input into their work. I know I looked for it, and many of my employees demanded it.

So why is it still so difficult to give and to get feedback? Three issues that come up:

  • Growth in technology inhibits casual conversation
  • The business of our calendars
  • Feedback takes time and the value is realized over time

With the growth in technology we have seen an increase in the number of employees working from home or from alternate locations. This makes communication more difficult than in the past when you could simply stop by a manager’s or employee’s desk for a quick chat. Or catch up with someone in the hallway. Communication now must be intentional.

Also we are all so busy! How many times have you asked, “How are you?” and heard the answer, “Busy!” We just don’t have time to stop and have these conversations when there are 6 fires that need our immediate attention. I once had a manager tell me, “I don’t have time to sit down and talk to him because I am too busy cleaning up all of his messes.” (See this post on why it is important to take the time now to gain the time in the future).

In addition, it can be difficult for managers to see the value in having a conversation when it does not immediately impact their current situation. I’ve heard managers say, “If they are doing their job, I don’t need to interfere or distract,” or “I’ll let them know if they screw something up,” or even “I don’t want to be a micromanager. They should know if they are doing a good job or not.”

To be honest, I often told my leaders that I liked to manage by exception. I told them I would praise them if they did something amazing and would call them out if they did something terrible, but otherwise I would keep out of their way. I said that, and yet I still gave regular feedback. We met regularly, we planned for their futures. We discussed their strengths and their weaknesses. We strategized and we dreamed. We also vented when necessary. This was all a critical part of their development as leaders.

Those of you in a position to give feedback should remember that the best way for you to be successful is for those under you to be successful. Focusing on their growth and development is a great way to help them succeed and in turn to help you succeed.

So here are some tips, first for those of us seeking feedback from others:

  • Schedule regular meetings with your manager. These can be as short as 15 minutes a week if you have a busy manager. Setting a consistent schedule for feedback and putting it on the calendar creates the formal space for this kind of communication.
  • Ask for specific feedback. Don’t ask questions like, “How do you think I am doing?” This is difficult to answer, and it will be hard for your manager to give you anything you can work with. Instead, after a meeting ask “How do you think I handled that meeting?” or after submitting a report, “How did you feel I handled that ambiguous data?” Asking about your performance on a specific task is much more likely to get you actionable feedback.
  • Understand your manager and her particular style. Manage up. Pay attention to the signals she is giving. If you stop by her office daily to ask, “How do you think I did today?” and you notice her rolling her eyes, switch tactics. Find something that works for both of you.
  • Think critically when deciding who to ask for feedback. Be sure (or as sure as you can) that the feedback you will get will be constructive and not destructive. I learned early in my career that the definition of “constructive” can vary widely amongst managers.
  • When you get feedback, remember that it has as much to do with the person giving it as it does with your specific performance. Take the feedback, but keep in mind the agenda of the person giving the feedback. There is always something to learn from every bit of feedback you receive – it just might not be exactly what you were looking for.
  • Some advice for those giving feedback:

    • Schedule regular meetings with your staff for the specific purpose of providing feedback. These can be as short as 15 minutes each week. They can be by phone or Skype, but get them on the calendar. I normally met with my managers formally for an hour every two weeks, although we had regular daily interactions as well. Don’t cloud the meetings with fire-fighting. Instead be intentional about that 15 minutes and stick to feedback and employee growth topics.
    • Have the difficult conversations. Don’t wait. Make the time. A quick conversation now can alleviate a long, drawn-out processes later.
    • Praise your employees. As often as you can. Look for ways to do this regularly. This gives you more credibility when you have to have those tough conversations.
    • BE CONSTRUCTIVE. Focus your conversation on behaviors and results, and never on personal characteristics. I was once told that I was a “monster.” Tell me what I was supposed to do with that?
    • Seek outside validation if you need to give highly critical feedback. Be sure that you are seeing the whole picture.
    • Listen. Feedback is not just the manager speaking to the employee. It should be an exchange of ideas between two people attempting to reach the same goal.
    • Be open about your expectations and your personal style. Help your employees to interact with you as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    Feedback is an important part of the success of your company. Keep at it, and see what wonderful things come!

    What other tips do you have for providing/accepting feedback? I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment here on the blog or shoot me an email!

    As always, keep it positive!

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