Last Updated On: 1 September 2022, 09:40 AM |  Total Published Posts: 5,308
23 Apr 2024

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How Do Leaders Increase Feedback Effectiveness?

How Do Leaders Increase Feedback Effectiveness? 


Executive Leadership Coach and Founder of Synergy Strategies, focused on ‘Transforming Leadership Through Intentional Growth and Innovation’ 


Different personalities, experiences and histories can leave a leader feeling baffled as to how to effectively communicate, provide meaningful feedback and inspire positive change in their followers. Neuroscience gives some great insight on feedback approaches that are effective and translate well to any individual’s brain.

Feedback is critical. Without it, people are left wondering and wandering. “Am I on track or not? Should I move forward? Did they like my work? Did they notice?” Giving honest, direct feedback is a must for effective leadership.

Healthy feedback shows that the leader cares, notices and takes an interest in their followers and is committed to their advancement and improvement. It takes time and planning, but is rewarding for leaders and their teams. Don’t give up — the more a leader practices, the more natural it becomes. Here are three principles for giving healthy feedback:

1. Provide feedback within a positive framework.

Speak positively. The brain will more likely take in information and not be triggered by it when feedback is given positively. Positive feedback is more than a compliment. It spots and affirms potential and supports positive advancement. It aids growth, highlights the best in people, and helps the recipient to develop their strengths and minimize weaknesses. When a leader has this mindset, they are able to give more constructive and positive feedback. The follower is better able to hear and digest the feedback because the leader has avoided triggering the social brain that can make a follower can feel rejected and inadequate. Instead, the follower feels safe and socially accepted and knows their work matters to others.

Build trust. Always have your employee’s best interests in mind. Start by sharing a strength. Then communicate the growth opportunity, and finish with a strength. This helps the mind stay present and positive. Engage the follower in the dialogue. Ask questions such as, “What are your goals? Where do you want to improve? How do you feel you could upgrade those skills?”

Turn negative feedback into a positive opportunity. For example, rather than focus on the negative — “You talk too much” — try the positive: “You share a lot of really great points in our meetings. It would be helpful if others were encouraged to respond and share their ideas too. How can we create space for everyone on the team to contribute? Your confidence is a great example and can help others know it is OK to speak up.”

2. Use the SCARF model to minimize threats and provide certainty.

First, lay a solid foundation using the SCARF model, which stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. For example, a lack of feedback can create uncertainty in followers, which leaves them wondering about their performance and creates stress and anxiety. By contrast, maintaining scheduled one-on-one meetings, sending an agenda ahead of time, and inviting them to bring their own feedback about the latest project and how they thought it went are all ways to affirm status, certainty and autonomy before any feedback is given. 

Second, as followers receive feedback, SCARF either creates the safety desired or the “bad” reaction we all want to avoid. Use the SCARF attributes to plan how to give feedback. Be aware of how your words might activate or trigger. Pay attention to how you communicate. Make them feel important and equal (status). Cocreate the outline for what you are talking about and give them a chance to share their thoughts (autonomy and certainty). Allow them to share first so they are not influenced or distracted by your thoughts. Say things to show you accept them and see them as part of the tribe (relatedness). Work to stay factual so they experience “fair” feedback when assessing their performance and behavior. These five themes can keep people calm and open versus activated and shut down.

3. Give tough feedback in private.

Because the brain is socially wired and status is important, a well-intended message can be hijacked when a person feels ashamed or embarrassed in front of peers. Giving feedback, especially tough feedback, in private is respectful of the person’s status and makes them more open to receiving the information. A safe space allows the follower to always feel supported and cultivates a culture of learning and failing forward. Feedback becomes a chance to grow and learn versus making one feel bad or wrong.

4. Ask for feedback.

How does a leader know if they are getting better at giving feedback? Here’s an idea: Share with followers your goal to improve in the next month. Each week, have a survey for them to fill out prior to the week’s feedback session (i.e., a one-on-one, review, meeting, etc.). At the end of the week, have them fill out the survey again, and notice if the scores go up or down. Ask followers to share what caused their scores to change. Reflect personally on the communication for the week. Did you give feedback in a positive fashion and create a SCARF-friendly environment? How did that impair or improve your scores? Are you being positive? Do you have relationships that allow people to be most open to feedback?

Here is a sample survey you may give that asks participants to rate each statement on a scale of 0 (low) to 5 (high):

• You trust me. (Trust)

• I care about your growth and success. (Goodwill)

• You feel you are important to me and the team. (Status)

• You know what to expect. (Certainty)

• You feel you have a level of independence and a voice. (Autonomy)

• You feel like you are part of the team. (Relatedness)

• Leadership handles matters fairly. (Fairness)

• You feel positive about relationships, leadership and communication. (Positivity)

Feedback is a critical activity for growth. To set your followers up for the greatest growth, improvement and success, lead the way by deepening your feedback skills, creating a feedback-rich environment so they can feel loved and valued, and leaving them feeling grateful for feedback, rather than angry and resentful.

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