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How to Give Feedback as a Leader

As I look back over my time on different teams, the struggles within those teams typically surfaced when we avoided being really clear with feedback. Sometimes it was the leader failing to push feedback to the team, while at other times it was the team that needed to talk to the leader. In either case,

In most cases, fear was the dominant feeling that kept feedback from happening. We’ve all felt it. We wonder how they will perceive the feedback: Will they take it personally? Could they think I’m a moron? What if they just ignore me altogether?

Maybe you’re the one to whom others are afraid to give feedback. Think about it for a second: when was the last time someone gave you feedback on your team? If it’s been a while (or never), maybe it’s you.

What Is Feedback?

Regardless of who’s afraid to say what to whom, a culture where feedback isn’t valued will never perform up to its full potential. This quote from Rob Manuel sums up my feelings on it.

“There’s a certain logic to avoiding the haters, but as a strategy, it’s utterly flawed. When you turn off the feedback, you lose the benefits as well as the drawbacks. It’s like having a sore finger and cutting off your arm.” -Rob Manuel

Let’s not turn off feedback. Let’s do it well and make it a regular part of our lives. It’s important to know how to give feedback.

Here’s a simple definition of feedback: communication about how you are doing in relation to a goal.*

It’s more than advice or practical wisdom. If the information or advice is going to be impactful (and be classified as real feedback), it must move someone forward in relation to a clear role and goal. That’s probably new to a lot of us.

How to Give Feedback as a Leader

When you are clear on what feedback is, it helps you do one critical thing: separate someone’s personality from their performance. If I am approached with feedback, I’m more likely to listen if it’s relating to a goal. If it’s an attack on who I am as a person, I naturally shut down. You’re going to be in trouble if I feel like you are saying I’m a “less than” person for what did or didn’t happen, and that’s not effective feedback.

It’s not easy to do well. If you can learn to give healthy feedback, it won’t just help projects run more smoothly at work, but there’s a good chance it can help you in your personal relationships too.

Great feedback starts with clear initial expectations. As a team, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is each person clear on their specific role?
  • Are there clear job descriptions?
  • If you are working on a project, are the responsibilities and deadlines clear?
  • Did everyone agree on them?

If the answer is NO to any of those questions, tread lightly when attempting to give any feedback. It’s really hard to do well if there isn’t clarity on the front end around who is doing what, how it is to be done, and when it’s due.  

Once you’ve clarified expectations, you now have the right to step in and help someone in relation to a goal. As you approach them, be clear that’s where you want to help. You want them to feel the wise words my brother-in-law, Uncle Shane, says, “I’m here to help you, not to hurt you.”  If you can speak to specific actions and brainstorm together ways to move forward, there’s a good chance the vibe around the feedback will be positive.

There’s so much more to say about feedback, but if you simply remember the principle of separating personality from performance, you will be well on your way to giving helpful feedback for years to come when you learn how to give feedback.

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Justin Harris is the COO of Wildsparq leader development and FireSeeds recruiting, located in Birmingham, AL. He is committed to helping companies and organizations enhance culture and multiply leaders. You can contact Justin directly at