Do you agree with leaders I’ve talked with about the role of feedback? 

  • “Feedback is when I catch someone doing something right and tell them.” 
  • “Quarterly performance reviews are when I give feedback.” 
  • “…when I let someone know where there’s room for improvement.” 

Feedback is often described as a message, thought of as something a leader is responsible to supply. 

While formal or written feedback has its place (try letting an employee go without any documented “feedback” in their file), only (some) HR professionals, consultants or corporate trainers have elevated formal feedback to a religious practice.

This ignores the true, organic nature of feedback as it naturally occurs in every environment. Examples of natural feedback include: 

  • Sore, dry, red skin (too much sun exposure)
  • Person folds arms and steps back (didn’t like what they just heard) 
  • Blurry photograph (camera not held steady)
  • Score of 9 on a par 4 (lack of skill in golf) 

Feedback is everywhere! 

Good leaders recognize naturally occurring feedback and take responsibility for utilizing it. Great leaders teach others how to do this, too. Great leaders don’t set themselves up as THE source of Feedback Supply, such that people become trained to wait on that feedback.

What if you created and taught a system to empower people to be CONSCIOUS of certain indicators around them (i.e., feedback) and to receive it in such a way that they could make good use of it? They could use it as positive reinforcement, or motivation to make changes to improve outcomes. 

Have you been instrumental in training your employee/spouse/friend/child to always wait for feedback from you/a supervisor/a parent/a teacher? 

“Bob, I want you to UNLEARN your natural and instinctive ability to notice, receive, and act on feedback that’s all around you. Just tune it out and wait for an authority to supply feedback,” said no great leader, ever. 

One benefit of empowering people to “listen” to their surroundings (often with all senses engaged) is that they will receive feedback much faster, sometimes immediately. The usefulness of feedback is directly proportional to the timeliness of receipt. 

Another benefit is that receiving negative feedback from an authority is guaranteed to raise defensiveness. Negative feedback from observable results is easier to see as “not personal” and simply as a catalyst for course correction. 

If an archer sees their arrow stick three inches higher than the bull’s eye, does she really need to hear her companion say, “You need to tilt your bow down a little,” or “You should aim lower next time.” 

(Why would that person give such “feedback,” anyway? To sound like “an authority?”) 

Your role as a leader is not to provide feedback to everyone all the time.

Do provide systems and incentives for employees or others you lead to become conscious of naturally occurring feedback and to use it to continuously improve their performance. 

Feedback is everywhere.  Not all of it needs to flow from you/the boss/the parent. 

Like my dad taught me during a driving lesson, check your side mirrors and your rear-view mirror, then look at the road before changing lanes. He knew that one day he would not be in the car with me to provide feedback and cautionary warnings. The more information he taught me to be conscious of, the better and safer my driving became.  I’m not a pilot, but I know that all their training is about feedback.

Encourage people around you to seek feedback from indicators around them, think about how it can be useful to them, and take actions to make improvements.  At the heart of effective leadership and communication is becoming more sensitive to feedback clues. You can demonstrate this as a leader, and teach it as well.

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