Leadership 101. Seek genuine feedback.

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.


Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2021

I’d like to share with you something I discovered by chance when I was teaching leadership to managers across a range of sectors and businesses.

One day, in a programme I taught repeatedly, I decided to ask a series of questions related to receiving feedback and see what happened.

What I discovered was surprising to me. I found that the answers were near identical across a range of managers.  It seemed that the answers to the questions followed a real pattern.

So I’ll pose them to you now and would ask that you also answer them before going to the following question.

Question #1:

Do you have now, or have you ever had a manager that you could safely confront or challenge about their management style or behaviour (something that they were doing) that you thought they needed to change?

YES? ________ NO? ________

Question #2:

If the answer to the last question was ‘yes’, would you call that manager mostly a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ manager?

GOOD? ________         BAD? ________

Question #3:

If  you answered ‘yes’ and ‘good’ to the first and second questions, what would you say the relationship you have (or had) with that manager is based on?

____________________        +        ____________________

So I was surprised by the number of managers in the room that answered the questions almost identically.

So I began asking the same questions over and over for each cohort of student managers and tested it over 10 years with literally thousands of managers and non-managers.

What I found was this:

1. Employees that say they can challenge, confront or give constructive feedback to their manager (about something that the manager needs to change) almost always (>90%) also describe that manager as a ‘good manager’.

2. And when a person is asked what the relationship with that manager is based on, they almost always say ‘Trust and Respect’

So over time I came to the conclusion that a manager that requests,  and takes on board personal feedback provided by their people is usually considered, on balance, a good manager by those people and that that manager trusts and respects their advice.

If you think about it, when a team member has a relationship of trust and respect with their manager, they are probably more inclined to want to support that manager. They will also probably give that manager more leeway and accept their shortcomings.

One of the best sources of information about your performance as a manager is from the staff members you directly manage. But they have to trust that you will do the right thing with that feedback. After all, you are asking them to take a risk that may harm the relationship they already have invested in building with you.

So how can you get honest and constructive feedback from your people?

I’m not sure where this came from, and if I knew I would acknowledge them here. But I love this.  To get honest feedback as a manager from your people, you should consistent apply the three ‘P’s below:  

1. Permission: You must encourage them to give you feedback.

2. Protection:  You must give them confidence that you won’t ever react adversely or retaliate in some manner that wil impact your relationship or their career.

3. Potency: You must give them the confidence, through your actions, that you will do something with the feedback.

Potency means that you need to do something. And it is entirely possible that you may be given feedback that has somehow asked you to change in a way that you are not entirely comfortable with.

Therefore, to build or retain your credibility, when you are provided with feedback you really only have only two options:

a)     To change as the feedback suggests you should , or

b)    To explain to the person why you won’t or can’t.

So if you are a manager, a team leader or any kind of leader, making yourself open to feedback will help you become aware of what others think that you most need to work on. And the act of asking for feedback suggests that you trust and respect the person to give you something useful, and that you are well intentioned, will consider it and will doing something useful with it.

So be courageous. Be open and ask for feedback. This is a great way to become a better leader faster.

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