Leaders, Start Asking for Feedback

January 26, 2021 Lynne Levy

3-minute read

man holding lightbulbBased on research from leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, the best leaders have something in common – their commitment to feedback. They found “leaders who ranked at the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated, on average, at the 86th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness.” 

According to HBR, the challenge is the feedback many leaders receive is not helpful, resulting in frustrated leaders who may stop asking for feedback all together. But when feedback is delivered well, it can provide leaders with the actionable data they need to become more effective. 

Here are some actions a leader can take to ensure they receive productive, insightful feedback, enabling them to become more inspired and influential leaders. 

Ask for feedback.   

One of the most powerful ways for leaders to grow is to ask for feedback from the individuals they interact with frequently. This includes not only colleagues but also direct reports. 

Most team members aren’t going to voluntarily speak up with negative feedback, especially when the leader is essentially in control of their future at the organization. 

Asking for feedback gives people more control over the conversation and certainty in what will be discussed. When leaders ask for feedback, they’re permitting people to be critical, resulting in more actionable and realistic insights. 

Create a psychologically safe environment.  

For many, the thought of giving their leader feedback is enough to send them running for the hills. Sharing feedback can be interpersonally risky.  

Leaders need to show their staff that their honesty will not be met with negativity but rather positivity. Candor should be rewarded.  

Ask for specifics.   

To encourage the giver of feedback, leaders must be specific. For example, ask about certain events, or patterns (how often do I interrupt you), or recommendations. Start small to create an environment where the risk level is not high for the giver of feedback. For example, ask about the collaboration during the last staff meeting. Ask specific questions, and you’ll get specific answers. 

Actively listen.  

When someone gives feedback to a leader, the leader must eliminate distractions to focus on the feedback. They should not have the laptop open and should turn their phone down. Leaders must pause and actively listen.   

Leaders must resist the impulse to analyze this feedback immediately. Instead, they should absorb the information and spend time reflecting on it. Even if leaders disagree with the feedback, it is paramount that they do not get defensive or start to debate the giver of the feedback. This only decreases the likelihood of the person giving feedback in the future.  

At the end of the discussion, the leader should thank the feedback giver for their insight. The other person will feel heard and valued, increasing trust and encouraging more future feedback. 

Reflect and evaluate.  

Once the feedback has been received, leaders must spend time thinking through the insight’s meaning and implications. Leaders should consider: 

  • What can they learn? 

  • What actions can they take? 

  • What part of the feedback should be disregarded? 

  • Which pieces need more in-depth understanding? 

Take action.   

Once leaders reflect on the feedback, they need to create action steps to start to improve. They need to create clear measures for improvement and be vulnerable by sharing updates with their team and colleagues. Taking action is vital for the leader, but it’s a signal to those who shared the feedback that the leader values their perspectives. 

The role of the leader has now evolved to one who must inspire and engage their teams. The most effective way to learn and grow, while inspiring teams, is by creating a trusting environment where feedback is part of everyone’s learning and growth. 


The Art of the Check-in: Strategies to Cultivate a Culture of Growth and Trust

The Human-Centered Leader

About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is a Workhuman evangelist who lives and breathes helping organizations build cultures that bring out the best in the employees. Her mantra is “do what you love, love what you do.”