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  • Tamar Balkin

Why don't leaders give good feedback?

“You don't know me

How you think you know what's best for me?”

Another Opinion by Meghan Trainor (Click here for the song)

Personal photo of a pillowcase.


“Monitoring and evaluating human performance is a fundamental aspect of ensuring a successful organisation”

Baker, A., Perreault, D., Reid, A. and Blanchard


What are the benefits of good feedback?

“the number one key characteristic of great leaders as identified by employees is their ability to give frequent, transparent feedback. Proactive feedback practices were unexpectedly rated by associates as more important and influential than leadership experience and technical knowledge”

Baker, A., Perreault, D., Reid, A. and Blanchard

When done well feedback will align both tasks and behaviour with the overall objectives and mission of the organisation. It will enable an organisation to have a greater competitive advantage, in any economic climate. In addition, feedback boosts creativity, propels trust, and drives motivation in individuals. Regular readers would know that positive feedback inspires high performance, (click here for my blog) negative feedback addresses poor behaviour and performance (click here for my blog). Why does feedback fail?

“Despite the fact that the benefits of well-designed feedback approaches are widespread, in reality, feedback in day-to-day organisational life is for the most part negative or delivered using a nonconstructive approach thereby making the majority of it non-productive”

Baker, A., Perreault, D., Reid, A. and Blanchard

What typically occurs?

Feedback in day-to-day organisational life is for the most part negative or delivered using a nonconstructive approach thereby making the majority of it useless. The frequency and timing of feedback is often random and distant from the behaviour. Feedback is provided as a result of pressure from others to ‘fix’ something ‘negative’ that may have occurred. Typically, judgements are based on subjective or biased measurements that have poor reliability, and conversations are one-sided. Telling staff about poor performance and inappropriate conduct is seen as a necessary chore and thus insufficient time is allocated to preparation and delivery. Leaders avoid feedback or make it a once-a-year occurrence as they fear they will be seen as micromanagers. Often leaders are too preoccupied with their own personal goals and brand to observe the behaviour of others. What are the ramifications of bad feedback? Researchers have found that when feedback is poorly delivered the following negative impacts can occur:

  • Increase in cynicism.

  • Decrease in trust.

  • Increase in confusion.

  • Increases in stress.

  • Increase in competition.

  • Decrease in performance.

  • Increase in staff turnover.

  • No change in employee behaviour.

If feedback is too subtle or ambiguous, the recipient may become perplexed and uncertain about whether any feedback has been given. Alternatively, if it is too direct then the employee can become defensive or avoidant.

Researchers have found that second-hand feedback has the following ramifications:

- Increase in cynicism and decrease in trust.

- Disbelief regarding the evidence.

- Unease regarding how the information was obtained.

- Concerns about manipulation and political games.

- Fear someone is of spying on them.

- Questions regarding the leaders' motivation and sincerity.

What is the secret to giving great feedback?

“Good leaders are firm, fair, courteous, and consistent.”

Ben Baran and Chris Everett

Organisational-wide initiatives:

Recent research points to the strong positive impact of creating an organisational culture that is feedback friendly. They found that when feedback is encouraged and appreciated, in the workplace it increases not only the meaning and acceptability of feedback but also its perceived usefulness.

Leader preparation:

  • Block out time in your diary to prepare, discuss, deliver, follow up and review feedback.

  • Define in detail the performance expectations of tasks and behaviours, for individuals and the team.

  • Determine critical positive and negative behaviours.

  • Outline the purpose and aims of feedback.

  • Obtain feedback on your Emotional Intelligence skills (click here for my blog on EQ) and

  • Proactively improve your ability to regulate your emotions and your capacity to interact effectively with others.

Strengthen relationships with team:

Build high-quality relationships with people around you so that you are a credible source of feedback. Particularly with negative feedback, it’s much more likely that the person will receive it well if it comes from someone whom they know cares about them.

Consult with the team:

  • Discuss performance expectations with employees, individually and as a group, for their input and to ensure benchmarks are realistic and understood.

  • Define measures of performance so that all feedback can be based on things you have seen and can verify.

  • Mutually agree upon the specific criteria and methods to be used for measurement.

  • Establish a schedule for review and modification.

  • Be mindful of the impact of events inside and external to the organisation, on performance expectations and make modifications as required.

  • Agree upon priorities and areas of focus.

  • Confirm mutual understanding and agreement.

Take action:

“The best feedback (both praise and criticism) I’ve gotten in my life generally happened in super-quick conversations between meetings or standing waiting for a light to change. Getting and giving impromptu feedback is more like brushing and flossing than getting a root canal. Don’t schedule it. Just ask for it and offer it consistently and immediately when it’s needed, and maybe you won’t ever have to get a root canal.”

Kim Scott.

Emotionally prepare:

Emotional intelligence, particularly empathy and emotional regulation are fundamental to any feedback, positive or negative. Regular readers would know that emotional regulation is the cornerstone of a leader’s ability to communicate authentically and openly. Regular readers would know that emotions are contagious and can impact our behaviour. To clearly put aside your own stressors to decide on appropriate expectations of the behaviour of others requires a clear head and a calm mind. ( click here for my blog on relaxation)

Emotionally intelligent leaders know the impact of their emotions on their behaviour and the behaviour of others. In the context of feedback, it is of particular importance that the leader can grasp the emotional dimensions of a business situation and enhance their capacity to influence others to achieve productive outcomes. Demonstrating empathy by suspending judgment, and ignoring biases, pressures and assumptions about both the person and the situation enables the leader to fully listen with curiosity. (click here for my blog on empathy).

“I really feel uncomfortable with feedback, maybe I can just use the feedback sandwich, you know squish the bad news in between the good?"

coaching client.

A structured and precise approach enables managers to deliver clear, and specific feedback. The Center for Creative Leadership developed the following Situation-Behavior-Impact™ model: Situation: describe the "when" and "where" of the situation, and be as specific as possible. This is easier to do if there is a short time between the situation and the feedback. Behaviour: describe the other person's behaviour, and only describe things you directly observed. It is essential to not judge the behaviour or suggest a reason behind it. Impact: convey the impact of the person's behaviour on you, your team and the organisation. Next steps: discuss what your team member needs to do to change this behaviour in the future, or – if their behaviour has had a positive impact – explore how they can build on this. Intent: tactfully ask gentle questions to understand the person's aims and objectives. Having a conversation about intent will help identify other issues at play.

Stay connected to what people really do, get out of your office see them in action, and ask polite curious questions. Leaders need to be intentional about having conversations about performance on a regular basis. Don’t wait until the formal performance appraisal time.


Feedback is both an art and a science, whilst a linear systematic approach may be preferable it is not always practical or suitable. leaders with high levels of interpersonal savvy are aware of the cues that will guide their conversations.

Other factors to consider:

Sometimes you only have second-hand information that you need to address and can’t always verify.

“I don’t know if this is true or not but it’s serious enough that I wanted to have a conversation with you, because I care about your success here”.

Ben Baran and Chris Everett

You have no control over how someone will respond practically and emotionally to feedback, and whether or not they will agree with you.

Final thoughts:

While this blog focuses on delivering feedback, regular readers know the importance of receiving it. When you seek feedback, you not only gain insight into your strengths and areas of development but you also get exposed to the recipient's perspective during the process.

Remember the ultimate goal of feedback is to help not harm.


References: more available on request Sherf, E.N., & Morrison, E.W. (2019). I do not need feedback! Or do i? Self-efficacy, perspective taking, and feedback seeking. Journal of Applied Psychology. Retrieved from Simon, L.S., Rosen, C.C., Gajendran, R.S., Ozgen, S. and Corwin, E.S. (2021). Pain or gain? Understanding how trait empathy impacts leader effectiveness following the provision of negative feedback. Journal of Applied Psychology. Baker, A., Perreault, D., Reid, A. and Blanchard, C.M. (2013). Feedback and organizations: Feedback is good, feedback-friendly culture is better. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 54(4), pp.260–268. Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K. and Hattie, J. (2020). The Power of Feedback Revisited: A Meta-Analysis of Educational Feedback Research. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 10(3087). doi:

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