Leadership Feedback—both delivering it and receiving it—will have an enormous impact on your growth and that of your team. Despite its importance, training on how to deliver feedback well is scarce.
To help solve for that, this article will show you several leadership feedback examples and the underlying principles that make them work (or not.)
Breaking Down Leadership Feedback
Before we get into examples of leadership feedback, let’s have a short primer on delivering effective feedback.
I recommend the book Thanks for the Feedback (Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen) for a great primer on delivering and receiving feedback. For this post, it will help to understand one of their key principles: the three types of feedback.
• Appreciation: Providing appreciation feedback address the emotional component, and inspires, encourages or rewards through praise and acknowledgment
• Coaching: When we provide coaching feedback, we focus on instruction to help improve, providing guidance and perspective to direct learning and growth from an outsider
• Evaluation: Feedback done as evaluation helps people understand where they are, which is criticism to practice and growth, as well as making it clear what we expect of them
Knowing which you are trying to deliver helps you tweak how you deliver the feedback, and consider the context to ensure it is the right time, place, and mindset for the type of feedback you are delivering (see the section on “Context” below.)
Be Actionable and Specific in Feedback
We provide or take feedback for a reason. It is not valuable outside of the goal of changing behavior. Remember that as you seek and deliver feedback.
Leadership is abstract enough that feedback will also often be general and hard to apply.
By putting in the effort to deliver more actionable feedback and to encourage others to provide their thoughts in a more actionable frame, the advice becomes useful.
Actionable feedback is rooted in a behavior or context that the recipient can change. Consider these two elements of feedback:
• Actionable: “When soliciting input from the team on a decision, do so before you have decided.”
• Not Actionable or Specific: “I don’t think my opinion has influence.”
Both examples are honest, but one is more immediately actionable to the recipient. While the not-actionable example might be an important statement of concern from a team member, it is not as easy to use as a point of feedback.
Don’t Be Personal
We often see leadership as a trait or a talent, so separating the comments on applying it as a skill from the perception of a person can be challenging.
Feedback constructed to avoid the personal and focus on events, actions, or strategies lets the subject take it for what it is.
Here is an example of two different ways to approach feedback on listening:
• Personal: “You can improve as a listener.”
• De-Personalized: “You can improve your facilitation strategies to make it easier for others to feel heard.”
Focus on the behavior and less on the person. This is closely related to the next point: harnessing a Growth Mindset.
Leadership Feedback – Examples of Growth-Oriented Feedback
Dr. Carol Dweck has popularized the concept of the growth mindset. That people who view their skills as changeable, and capable of growth through practice rather than fixed, is a major influence on the work of this site.
Leaders, and their teams, benefit from the Growth Mindset. That baseline philosophy grounds feedback as a meaningful tool for that growth.
You should do what you can to reinforce the Growth mindset in practice and plugging your feedback into this strategy is a good start.
Here are two examples of feedback viewed through the lens of the Growth Mindset:
• Fixed Mindset: “You are not very observant about the issues facing your team.”
• Growth Mindset: “There are some skills we can practice that will help you more effectively notice the issues facing your team.”
The fixed version talks to the subject as “what they are” the growth mindset version emphasis skills they could have and practice.
Delivery Matters – Consider Context
Feedback is only as effective as how the subject receives it. When and how leadership feedback is delivered will shape that reception, and can alter the response from acceptance and careful consideration to defensiveness and frustration.
You’ve probably experienced a time when a friend misinterpreted a text message because of missing tone or body language. Maybe you’ve said something to someone while frustration with traffic distracted them.
Considering someone’s preparedness to receive a message because of mood, timing, situation, and other contextual factors can make you more effective.
Here’s an example:
• Bad Context: “I have some notes on how we can improve the project retrospective.” – said five minutes after the project retrospective, to the entire team
• Better Context: “I have some notes on how we can improve the project retrospective.” – after the weekend, in private to the project lead who ran the project respective
In the first case, the project lead might feel attacked. After all, they just finished the task, are exhausted and did their best. The notes won’t help now. It will deflate any feeling of accomplishment from completing the task.
Hearing the message in private means they will feel like it is a growth concern and not an indictment in front of the team. Having it happen a week later means they will have some distance, and still have the chance to feel the accomplishment. They also probably recharged with the opportunity to relax and recover.
The break also suggests that the feedback is growth-oriented rather than immediately corrective. This is a subtle, but very important, distinction.
Consider the context carefully based on cues, experience, and (most importantly) empathy for the audience. Think about where they are mentally as they prepare to hear your feedback.
I hope these leadership feedback examples have illustrated the thought process for you so that you can deliver (and receive) useful feedback that contributes to growth.
If you’re interested in learning more about leadership feedback, be sure to check out our other articles on leadership communication and leadership development as well.