Leadership Excellence: Providing Effective Feedback

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 3rd Apr 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Personal Development>Leadership

Historically people tend to wag their fingers a lot when assessing how others have performed, yet adopting an accusative tone rarely brings about any change. In providing feedback leaders face many challenges, they need to ensure that change happens and then only way to make this happen is for team members to be involved.

The Concluding Part

This is the concluding part of a two-part series about the leadership challenge of providing feedback for personal development, the prior article article discussed the following elements of the feedback challenge:

This article will cover:

  • Helping others improve
  • Effectiveness of the feedback given
  • Constructive feedback
  • How to avoid "YOU"
  • Ending Positively.

Performance and Helping Others Improve

Once a set of objectives are agreed then it is important to observe the team member's performance both in terms of the things they do well and the things they need to improve on, which should always the provision of regular feedback, although this does not have to be immediate, often bi-weekly or monthly reviews provide the best results and it should be remembered that people often know where then went wrong and seek guidance in how they may do something better next time. As the person giving feedback you may not perceive that a specific problem exists until the person facing it highlights it to you, in truth they have made themselves the expert on solving that particular problem and you should give them credit for the actions that they have taken, the self-motivated will not always ask permission to take corrective action and it is important that leaders recognise and reward this type of initiative.

Whilst it should be recognised that the passage of time may diminish the effectiveness of any performance critique it is important that there is a forum that is open to discuss activity (good, bad or ugly), or perhaps lack thereof, in considering this it is simple to think of it as resulting from either laziness or an unwillingness to do something, but in truth this could just a easily come about because the project is stalled somewhere else and getting to the heart of the underlying problem will ultimately help get the problem resolved.

It is always important to recognise positive performance, and sometimes this means looking for positives even where something has gone wrong. An example here is the story an Uncle relayed about his driving test, he was driving when suddenly another driver backed out of their driveway and despite trying to brake and steer clear he hit that car, because he got out of his car and exchanged all the necessary details in a calm and collected manner the test examiner gave him a pass mark at the completion of the examination. The positive here was that he reacted in a cool and calm manner rather than adopting an accusative tone or starting an argument, which many people would have done in the same situation and this is precisely the feedback he had from the examiner; in such a situation failure is not a foregone conclusion.


"Effective" is one of the key words used in the title, so perhaps the first place to look is at the dictionary definition, this classifies "effective" as producing the desired or intended result.

There is an important question of who desires the intended results? Certainly if you are looking to improve yourself then chances are that you are more likely to be receptive to suggestions for change. Yet in a business environment a manager or supervisor whose intention to have a more effective workforce is less likely to attain that result when the workers themselves does not buy into the need for change on some level; this is one of the challenges of a business environment and whether a manager can bring about effective change.

In an organisation like Toastmasters, which is focused on learning and improvement, a person joins because they wish to change themselves and understand more about speaking and leadership and when giving feedback there is a basic understanding that they possess an underlying desire to bring about personal change on some basic level; although they may not specifically know the path or direction of change they do understand that improvement is necessary.

Assuming then that a person buys into the need for change then all the feedback in the world is for nothing if it does not bring about altered habits or ways of doing things for all involved. This is the challenge of making personal development effective and actually needs to be linked closely to personal objectives with all parties buying into and agreeing what changes are needed.

Feedback is a very sensitive and difficult process as it is all too easy to hurt with criticism but at the same time false compliments are equally unhelpful. There are four key categories to learn to deal with:

  • Advice - "I thought it was good, but it still needs to change"
  • Compliment - "I thought it was good, keep doing the same in future"
  • Suggestion - "I thought it was bad, but we can live with it"
  • Criticism - "It was bad and must be changed"

The challenge of criticism is the toughest of all of these because although you, as the person giving the feedback, may dislike every aspect of what was presented it is generally accepted that people do not respond well to the most severe of criticism even where it is given with the intention to invoke improvement there is a possibility that it will be received wrongly and you can all too easily bring to an end all improvement because of a misplaced word or two. Think of the feedback you have received in the past and understand that those giving it may not have had your best interests in mind, thus when you give feedback then avoid those same pitfalls and look to ways that your feedback can prompt a particular action to be taken; you are seeking to encourage continuing change rather that halt all progress.

Everything, that is every person, product, system, or idea has its faults and in the best-case scenario awareness of this can lead us in the pursuit of perfection, however there are many cases where focusing too strongly on the flaws can stifle good ideas, when an idea is not yet fully developed then it is important to put the right efforts into developing it rather than simply causing it to be abandoned and this is certainly where constructive feedback assists. The positive, constructive thinker sees the positives in an idea and looks for ways to extend or develop it further.

Constructive Feedback

Remember this: all feedback is a matter of personal opinion, even when that relates to workplace reviews, which is about your manager's opinion of the value of your work and how it impacts your salary or wages and even continued employment. You may not agree with that opinion, and it certainly may impact your earnings but it is opinion nonetheless. It is true that today most workplaces try to make the review process fair, but much will depend upon whether the company sees itself as a learning/growing organisation.

Learning organisations will help members grow through feedback and the best way to assist any person is through the following steps:

  • Highlight team impact
  • Be specific
  • Make it clear it is a personal view
  • Show sincerity
  • Avoid "you"

Actions that are important for teams should take special consideration as they impact many people because the actions or behaviours can be widespread and sometimes this needs to be made clear to all involved, not just the person whose performance is being reviewed.

The feedback must be specific and focused in order to be useful to the recipient. General or unclear responses do not allow anyone to improve, which is most likely the reason they needed their performance to be assessed in the first place, that said it is often best to work from the general to the specific when giving your analysis.

One way to view the role of leadership in relation to staff in a subordinate role is to consider the situation you are in, as going through the following steps:

  • Instructing: When starting a new job employees require strong leadership, for such employees the level of commitment is high, in contrast to their low level of expertise and as a consequence they may need to be given orders and instructions.
  • Coaching: When an employee’s level of expertise has risen sufficiently but their level of enthusiasm after the initial euphoria in starting the job may have started to wane. This stage is about asking questions and have employees find the answers themselves.
  • Supporting: once the level of expertise has sufficiently risen their motivation may have either risen or dipped. At this stage it is important to encourage them to build and develop their own ideas under your guidance.
  • Delegating: Where employees themselves are fully in control of their own work and motivation is high, they are ready to be given their own projects and potentially lead their own teams.

The idea is that employees become successful and can largely control their own destiny, your role in their development becomes largely superfluous, but you will continue to mentor and support their efforts, but having a more overarching view.
This section described the process in regards to a work environment, but it will also have parallels in any social organisation as a new member grows and understands the values the group offer to the community at large.

Avoiding "You"

One of the aspects of the "you, you, you" approaches to evaluation if that it can sound very accusative, even if that is not the evaluator's intention, that can make any person feel extremely defensive, or worse they may consider you have attacked their best efforts and make them very small indeed.

It is always better to make a problem a joint one, so that “WE” have to commonly address or resolve the problem than to have the problem be focused solely on the person being evaluated, they do say that a problem shared is a problem halved, although a cynic may say that use of a common term, we, is only a cover for the accusative approach because the person being evaluated is the person expected to make the change.

Far better is turning this around to the "I technique" does show the person that you are giving that person advice based on your own personal experiences, which may have been either good or bad, but there is no reason why others cannot learn from your understanding. One example of this is by saying "I have found..." you are showing one possible alternative based on your own very real experience, but consider this – ultimately their approach may still be best, but they will at the very least have an opportunity to consider something from your experience which they can use to add to their own approach, essentially you have to give something of yourself in order to encourage growth in others.

This giving something of yourself may actually be one of the toughest things any person may be able to start doing. It is easy to give uninformed gut feelings on what we like or dislike, and in truth we all too often do this and when painting a picture it is often best to show how or where you failed in order that others may learn.

End Positively

It is always important to end any evaluation of a person's performance with a positive statement, remember that for the last period of time you have been opening up a component of their lives, this is very personal indeed, it may have little relevance to your life but it can be very significant to them, indeed some of the things said, even when said with the most positive of intentions, will have hit home hard which can be a bitter pill to swallow. Thus it is best to keep the very best aspects about the person's performance to the very end and leaving things on a positive note.

When I say end, I mean end - once the performance is evaluated and you have concluded do not go back to asking them to fill the form out or sign the report - that should have been completed earlier in the evaluation or be left for another day, the positive note is as important for the person being evaluated as it is for their opinion of you as an evaluator. Once the high point is reached, thank them and make it clear the session is over.

Other Recent Aricles

The following may be of some interest:

If you are thinking about making your own personal contribution then you should do something about it now - your view is as important as anyone else's, the first thing you could do is ADD a comment providing your own thoughts and feedback, which is always much appreciated. Sometimes however your thoughts transcend the limits of a simple comment and you need to make your own contribution of 300 words or more; perhaps penning your own article is more appropriate, well you can make your own views felt.

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author avatar johnbee
3rd Apr 2013 (#)

Good info

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
3rd Apr 2013 (#)

this is great Peter

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author avatar Markthespark
3rd Apr 2013 (#)

Great article, that covers so many perspectives. I believe that all of us are prone to mistakes - and that when those mistakes occur, leaders or managers should be constructive in their criticism - and not destructive as is always the case most times. Leaders should be mentors too. We are all in this together - they are part of the team too.

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author avatar Md Rezaul Karim
4th Apr 2013 (#)

Well written article on leadership and behavior.. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar Retired
4th Apr 2013 (#)

Some good suggestions, Peter!

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author avatar Buzz
4th Apr 2013 (#)

I reckon, you always write this, your wisdom, against the backdrop, or unmindful of "Rome burning".

Keep your eyes open, if not your mind.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
9th Apr 2013 (#)

Actually all things require leadership, even revolution - Rome may be burning around us but it is our duty to understand and build our leadership skills in order that we are bes able to tackle the challenges ahead.

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author avatar Retired
7th Apr 2013 (#)

wow, good point of views for leadership. It seems your a good leader as well

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author avatar Ms. Ann
7th Apr 2013 (#)

Good article.

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author avatar krunesh kamboj
15th Apr 2013 (#)

Dear peter, It is one of the most effective posts. really great

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author avatar Trillionaire
23rd May 2013 (#)

Excellent article and very effective tools to use.

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