Feedback – The Lost Art of Leadership

Do you remember those bumper stickers on the back of commercial vehicles that would say, “How’s my driving?” Do you remember the toll-free number along with it? Those stickers used to be very prevalent in the past, but they are seldom seen these days. A 2016 poll states that the majority of people who call those numbers are solely calling to complain. However, most people don’t use the number at all, let alone offer any positive comments about driving. And the people that are answering the phone expect to hear and are trained to handle the negative comments that tend to come in.

This sounds a lot like leadership now. Before, there was an open invitation to give others feedback on how they are doing, now, feedback is seldom seen.

In the case where feedback does occur, it is typically negative. Even though the research shows that leaders believe that negative feedback is more effective than positive, it is not true. So, what has happened to the art of feedback, and how do we get it back?

The Absence of Feedback

Our world is dominated by subjectivity. The events of life around us are influenced by personal feelings, tastes, and opinions, and now it is increasingly difficult to determine what is acceptable or unacceptable. Let me say here that what others believe is very important and it is truth to them. Just because one person sees the world one way, it should not infringe on the way another sees the world. In any event, what has happened is that when we have something critical to say to another person, there is a healthy fear of how a person might respond. Since a leader is unaware of the potential reaction, the choice is not to give the perspective at all. Thus, the loss of the art of feedback.

The Result

Many people believe themselves better than they actually are. That is the result of illusory superiority or the “above-average effect.” David Dunning, a psychologist at the University of Michigan states, “While most people do well at assessing others, they are wildly positive about their own abilities.” Research tells us that people, particularly poor performers, tend to overestimate their performance. Now, we have people that believe they are better than they actually are, have an invalid effect, and are not force multipliers. These poor performers have the potential, but how will they know unless someone tells them?

The Solution

The Zenger Folkman research referenced above suggests that people do in fact want to know how they are doing. There is a sense of authority given when we tell them how well they are doing. The key is to disarm them of the negative bias toward feedback. How? Ask for feedback before giving it. Now the “power” is in their hands. Once you ask for feedback, the law of reciprocation comes into play as the person will naturally want to give the same opportunity that the leader has given to them.

Here are some keys to recover the art of feedback:

Be Emotionally Intelligent

Not everyone receives critical information in the same way. Knowing yourself, your people and how you all see the world will go a long way in being successful at giving feedback.

Be specific and concise

People do much better knowing exactly what the issues/challenges are because most people want to achieve success. If a person is to respond to feedback, they must understand their actions and/or attitudes without the extra fillers.

Be willing to listen more than criticize

Dr. Brene Brown, a world-renowned research professor, says that connection is “…the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” If a connection to feedback is desired, listening fills the bill to being seen, heard and valued. While the critique is valuable as well, the feedback will not stick unless they are heard too.

Be ready to offer all your resources

In the moments when we give feedback, we must make it clear that the next steps include more than just the individual making a difference in motivating improvement. Have a plan for their improvement, but be careful that they are more a part of the plan than you are (see step one to make them a part of it).

Be ready to recognize

The sweet spot for most people is when they are recognized for their hard work. After reviewing the feedback plan and time is given to execute, the best mode of follow-up is recognition of the working of and the measurable results of that plan. Acknowledging their hard work makes the tense moments of feedback worth it.

Bringing back the art of good, healthy, consistent feedback that yields high-performance within a team, an organization, a family or even a community allows for greater communication, deeper understanding of one another, higher levels of awareness and emotional intelligence, and better results. You can learn more here. This is an excellent first step to becoming an effective servant leader. 


Lyle Tard
Lyle Tard
Lyle Tard has recently completed a 20-year honorable commitment in service to his country and is now a retired United States Air Force member as of 31 January 2020. He has obtained his undergraduate degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Arizona Global College and is completing his certification as a Senior Professional in Human Resources. As a communicator, Lyle has spoken worldwide inside and out of the military community. He has motivated young adults at institutions such as Atlanta Leadership College, Triton College, South Eastern University, American University, Georgetown University, Harvard Business School, and his alma mater, University of Arizona Global College. Lyle has consulted leaders in the city and federal government in Washington D.C. in organizational effectiveness and trained C-Suite level executives from coast to coast in companies like UST Global. Just as in his time with the Air Force, Lyle takes pride in leading the next generation of world changers. From universities to businesses to churches, Lyle's passion is to influence the world to realize that "Leaders lead best when they serve." Now, Lyle has taken all these skills into the world of coaching. As a graduate of the Health and Wellness Coaching program through Georgetown University, Lyle seeks to assist emerging leaders to become whole as a Life, Transition, & Wellness Coach. He currently serves as Operations Director with Critical Path Associates, an organization built to create pathways of legacy and success through leadership development, IT solutions, and organizational wellness.

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  1. Lyle, thank you for writing and sharing your article. I try to give my clients positive feedback but if they are not conducting business in a proper forthright manner of their hiring process is not what it should be I will tell them in no certain times. Giving positive feedback when it is not called for is the equivalent of lying. In the past when a client is doing something wrong I will address the issue in a very strong and decisive manner.

    • Joel, going to have to respectfully disagree with your statement on positive feedback not being called for resulting in lying. Opportunities for improvement are not negative, they are positive. When people are not performing to their potential, this doesn’t have to be negative. A lie is not telling the truth. We can tell people the truth about poor performance without coddling them, babying them and also without tearing them down and do it in a way that challenges them to either improve by getting better with our organization or getting better by finding another situation that works better for them. Chick-fil-A does an incredible job with that. One great way is to already know the goals, dreams, and aspirations your people have. What is their definition of success? If you tailor your feedback to their words, their goals and their aspirations, helping them realize that their current direction isn’t helping them achieve that and that they might need to make some different choices is not lying. It may be a tough conversation, but it is a positive one.

  2. Lyle – Welcome to the BC360 family. Here you will find encouragement and respectful engagement. Most importantly, you will develop a following of readers who will soon be new ‘online’ friends.

    I agree with that when possible, feedback should be given regularly and presented in a positive light (which should be simple – a quick “really good work here” when a project is finished and is completed accurately or “let me show you something that will need a bit of expansion before we can call this project complete” when the work needs a little more attention).

    However, sometimes, I have had employees who see the kind and respectful approach to feedback to be a sign of weakness and they use it to intimidate the manager. One tried to yell at me and curse a blue streak just to prove “I was wrong”. In this case, a sterner and more formal approach became necessary. So, I stood up, approached, and said very firmly, “Have I yelled or cursed at you?” as I leaned into his personal space. A sheepish, “No” was his reply. “Then sit down.” I returned to my seat and again, in a very respectful tone, outlined the problem and corrective action. This time his only response was, “Yes, sir.”

    Again, welcome and a very good start.

    • Len, thank you. A few thoughts here:
      I must raise my eyebrow to “when possible.” I don’t know a person that doesn’t like being told that they aren’t excelling. How they are told, when they are told and what they are told can be critical to how they respond. “Why” is an important response. If they can be told “why” that was really good work, beyond the obvious, this creates significance beyond just the successful execution of the project. To that, I say that feedback is always possible. It depends on how we frame it.
      Like how you dealt with the individual that disrespected your authority. Our feedback strategy, when kind and respectful, should come from a place of emPOWERment…power clearly being the operative portion of the word. Our feedback should not endeavor to be “nice”, it should be uplifting. Last time I checked, I’ve never been lifted by someone who lacked strength.

    • Lyle – The “when possible” was the set up for the example where I had to be assertive before I could get back to positive counseling techniques. 👍

  3. Excellent article. Many managers should read it.
    Among the essential skills of a capable Manager (regardless of the number of employees or collaborators) there is that of being able to manage people better, guiding them by example, but also through communication skills capable of producing desired behavioral responses. The communication of managers or executives to their collaborators is something that has an enormous impact on company results, especially in a phase of change and reorganization, but not only. The most frequent communication act with which a manager is confronted in the daily life is to give feedback, that is to say opinions on the work of his collaborators, and it is so frequent that it is often done automatically, instinctively or without giving too much weight in most of the cases, because they are convinced that they know how to do from previous experience. In reality, feedback, in a labor market that is constantly evolving and will evolve more and more, has become a very important tool for those who have collaborators and essential for creating an intelligent and cooperative relationship over time that can improve tangible results to company level.
    Much research tells us that in the vast majority of cases it is given incorrectly and this can lead to completely counterproductive results.
    Therefore, Lyle, thank you for sharing these notes.

    • Aldo, thank you for the vote of confidence and encouragement. I love the statement here of “evolving feedback.” I honestly don’t really care for the idea of “positive” or “negative” feedback. Is the feedback building a person or “evolving” them or the situation, or halting momentum and development? The latter should not happen. The former should continually be the goal.