Honest feedback can make you a better leader

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Jun 01 2020 by Jim Barnett Print This Article

We humans are often very poor at self-awareness. But anyone who sees themselves as a leader canít afford to be complacent.

As emerging leaders, we particularly need the feedback. We need insight to grow. But there are two obstacles here. The first of these is that we arenít always honest with ourselves. Harvard Business Review research shows that although 95% of managers think theyíre self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.

Thereís also the unavoidable issue of hierarchy; when someone advances in an organisational structure to take on more leadership roles and responsibilities, the real or perceived power imbalance results in peers, co-workers, and especially direct reports to think twice before providing candid commentary and feedback.

And without doubt thatís the kind of feedback thatís most helpful in developing you as a leader, and itís what shapes us into the people and professionals we want to become. In my case, when I was a first-time CEO, and in light of some challenges the business was going through, one of my mentors on our companyís board taught me about the importance of inspiring people. Itís safe to say that particular piece of feedback illuminated my path ahead as chief executive. As a result of this, I have grown to believe that inspiring people is one of the most important things a leader must do in order to be successful. Iím not sure Iíd be where I am today without those conversations.

Developmental feedback is crucial

Iíve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the issue of best practice when it comes to providing feedback and how it should be framed and what it meant for my company at the time and how it influenced my own career trajectory. I have come to believe that we need to spend more time prioritising and providing much more structured developmental feedback, to help people build on their strengths and capabilities.

But a proper structure for this development conversation is unfortunately rare in far too many organisational settings, where managers rely heavily on performance-related feedback. The reason for this is that performance management feedback has a binary nature (good/bad, right/wrong) and offers a clear route to evaluative decisions business leaders have to make, like promotions and compensation.

But while performance-related feedback has its role, we also know we need to allocate more time to prioritising and providing developmental feedback.

Feedback in the round

So how can leaders get truly helpful developmental feedback? Here are five components Iíve seen help developmental feedback be truly successful:

  • Feedback has to be fully 360-degree, so not just from above (your manager), but also from the side (your peers) and below (your direct reports), in order to fuel active self-awareness
  • Define its purpose so it's clear this is for development rather than performance. Without that, participants wonít feel comfortable about providing the honest feedback required. Also, align the process to business needs and organisational behaviours and values
  • Ensure relevance by covering topics that are relevant to an employeeís developmental journey and timed to have the greatest impact (for instance, when they have moved into a new role or when they take on a complex new challenge)
  • Provide support by offering guidance on how to be an effective feedback giver, plus create a safe space to allow your employee to practice new capabilities
  • Keep up the momentum, now youíre started so well by integrating 360 feedback into all your regular goal and review discussions.

With the right application and follow-through, genuinely 360, in the round, evaluations can be a useful way to build capabilities for individuals ó and even organisations ó by developing self-aware leaders who can meet the needs of the business.

Even better, when organisations make 360s available for the majority of their teams, they normalise development-oriented feedback as a part of the employee journey, creating a feedback culture that emphasises improvement and growth.

And thatís really the point. Once organisations generate the supportive culture that ensures thereís space for everyone to build self-awareness, better outcomes for both your people and your business appear.


About The Author

Jim Barnett
Jim Barnett

Jim Barnett is CEO and co-founder of Glint, part of LinkedIn. Glint helps people-driven organizations increase employee engagement, develop their people, and improve results.