Leadership Perspectives: A Better Form of Feedback

by  Georgia Feiste  |  Team Dynamics


Dan Rockwell wrote a blog a short time ago entitled “Overcoming the Downside of Excellence” in which he said, “Participants, on the other hand, build the future by offering insightful evaluations coupled with positive suggestions.

“Should have” ties to the past. “Next time” maintains momentum.

Bonus tip:
“What worked” and “What didn’t work” is better than “What went wrong?”

This is the beginning of de-constructive conflict, a type of conversation that holds that there is rarely an absolute right or wrong way to do things, and recognizes that no two people see things exactly the same way. It creates a context for learning that criticism rarely does, even when it is given kindly.

Most of us think our only choice in giving feedback is criticism – destructive when given poorly – constructive when given with good intent. In fact, most performance management is based on constructive criticism, and can be quite demoralizing. Yes, demoralizing – we’ll talk about that in a minute. Either type of criticism makes the assumption that the leader/manager is the only one with the right answer, and it is their job to give the employee all the information they need to do the job. The employee’s only job is to listen, not ask questions, and do what they are told. In our educational system, this is called the transmission model (and that’s a blog for another day).

When you accept and believe these assumptions as leaders, you lose out on one of the best aspects of being in collaboration with your team members.

  • You lose the opportunity to learn from your co-workers.
  • You continue to live inside the four walls of your box, making no effort to expand your understanding, or shorten the walls so that you might actively look for someone else’s perspective.
  • You have a tendency to think others who disagree with you are just being disruptive, defensive, or they love to stir the pot.
  • Substandard behavior may begin to show up, resulting in a fear of giving feedback, a tendency to hold people to your personal preferences, and perhaps you begin to label others as agitators, stupid, or incapable.

So, here is where we get to the demoralizing part – for everyone. Employees begin to disengage. They stop thinking or making independent decisions or judgments on their own. Often they only do exactly what they are told.  Leaders begin to think they are responsible for everything and they are no longer able to function as a leader.

Now that we know we don’t like criticism – in any shape or form – here is what deconstructive conflict can do for you!

  • It creates a framework and environment designed to create learning, rather than shame.
  • It allows us to explore the assumptions of all parties, and determine what significance they are attaching to what they see, hear, feel, touch, and even smell.
  • When we operate from a sense of adventure and openness, everyone gets to learn, not just the person(s) we are speaking with.
  • Creating an environment designed to create learning, allows us to see each other responding authentically, and with integrity. We are all making choices and share thoughts and ideas that express who we are, not who someone wants us to be.
  • When we are participating in this type of feedback mechanism, we recognize that none of us may have the correct answer, or we all do, or one of us does – but we come to that realization together.
  • When you are the person starting the feedback communication, you get to admit that you don’t understand given what you know about the situation. And, you get to ask for help in understanding! This shows everyone concerned that you respect yourself, you respect them, and while you are cautiously holding to your own viewpoint, you are honestly seeking clarity so that you (or both) might change your mind(s).

Here is my question for the day. I would love to hear from you, especially if you would like to give me feedback!

 Where are you presented with opportunities to utilize this different form of feedback?



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What People Are Saying

Darin Gerdes  |  06 Dec 2012  |  Reply

It comes down to the reviewer’s attitude. When I am evaluating one of my faculty member, my first question is “how can I help you be more effective? What can I do to help you be more effective?” This is well received. It is the opposite of the manage by exception approach where you criticize what is wrong.

Georgia Feiste  |  06 Dec 2012  |  Reply

Darin – Thank you for your comment. Your questions are right on target, and can lead to some great conversation. Just some food for thought, though…. Does your question assume that your process/knowledge/skills are the “right answer”? What if you changed your question to: “What do you think we could do to be more effective as a team? Would this open the conversation up for learning on both sides?

Warmly, Georgia

Darin Gerdes  |  07 Dec 2012  |  Reply

I think we are on the same page. I don’t go in with a preconceived notion. I have one question: what can I do to serve or equip you to be more effective? This is well received.
-Darin Gerdes

Karin Hurt  |  08 Dec 2012  |  Reply

I love the concept of “leading with a sense of adventure and openness.” A leader can go a long way with that spirit.

Anthony Beardsell  |  19 Dec 2012  |  Reply

I think what you are talking about Georgia is the new model of leadership in which leaders build leaders because they know that one person cannot be the best in the world at every part of their business. So as a leader you build a team of leaders who are absolutely the best at what they do. You build leaders by encouraging people to take responsibility and responsibility comes when it is given to people (endowed on them).

You can can get someone to take responsibility by asking them to produce solutions rather than giving them solutions. I think that this is what you are getting at?


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