10 Attitudes About Feedback From The Most Effective Leaders

November 1, 2020

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(Article first appeared on Forbes)

Occasionally, people read articles about the best approaches to giving and receiving feedback and may think to themselves, “That all sounds great, but what do the most effective leaders actually do?” To answer that question, I combined a self-assessment measuring feedback preference with 360-degree evaluations of leaders from 13 or more managers, peers, direct reports, and others. Next, I compared those leaders rated in the top quartile (264 leaders) on their overall leadership effectiveness to those rated in the bottom quartile (438 leaders). I then identified the top 10 attitudes. (The table below provides you with the top 10 items.)

I invite you to select the answer (1 or 2) that you feel is your preference for each item.

Feedback Quiz

What Attitudes About Feedback Helped the Most Effective Leaders?

  1. Corrective feedback is helpful, but the most effective leaders focused on the positive. Many people assume that the best leaders are those who are willing to provide others with negative or corrective feedback. Our research clearly shows, however, that the most effective leaders are those who give much more positive feedback than negative feedback. This is true even to the point wherein item 4 above, the most effective leaders were occasionally willing to ignore mistakes or misbehavior. What is your tendency? Have you developed a tendency to look for mistakes and point out what others have done wrong? Many leaders feel it is their responsibility to identify and correct mistakes, and while that is true, it is also the responsibility of a manager to identify excellent performance. Our research found that leaders who preferred to give positive feedback and resisted giving negative feedback were rated significantly more positively by others.
  2. There is no such thing as “too much praise.” The most effective leaders gave others an abundance of praise and recognition. Some leaders mistakenly worry that too much praise and recognition can be a bad thing. On the contrary, providing others with compliments is a wonderful habit to develop.
  3. While the best leaders focused on the positive behaviors of others, they were open to and willing to receive negative feedback themselves. We found that leaders who only wanted to be given positive feedback were much less effective. Being open to advise and feedback from others helps leaders to become more effective.

I hope you will take this short survey and carefully consider your own attitudes about feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is a critical skill that enables leaders to improve their effectiveness and the effectiveness of their direct reports. Just because you have always received a certain type of feedback doesn’t mean that is the type you need to give. The words that come from the mouths of bosses and leaders are powerful. They can lift others up, drag them down, inspire them to be better and push harder, or stifle their growth. Feedback is a gift, so package and deliver it with care.

— Joe Folkman

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Episode 7: The Enigma of Positive and Negative Feedback 

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Why Is It So Difficult For LEaders To Give Positive Feedback? (Research featured in The New York Times)
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