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Giving feedback to leaders

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The more senior people are in organisations the less accustomed they will be to hearing what they do well and, more importantly, not so well. Giving feedback to senior leaders can also be a challenging task, for both parties.

Based on our years of experience working with senior leaders, we have found the following points to be key:

  1. Do your homework. It is a common mistake to make the assumption that all high profile individuals are from the same breed and therefore one approach fits all. Being prepared and having an understanding of the context and background of each individual will ensure the right approach in structuring the feedback session.
  2. Always start with the positives. As obvious as this may seem, starting off by highlighting the positives will create an atmosphere where leaders feel reinforced and acknowledged for their positive behaviour and will ensure they are put at ease. We need to remember that after all, even leaders are humans and appreciate reassurance regarding what they do well!
  3. Focus on the key points. Don’t get lost in the details or beat around the bush. Leaders don’t have time for either. Moreover, they appreciate the focus on those points that have the biggest impact on their success, even if they are the most difficult ones to communicate.
  4. Make it relevant. In order for leaders to be open to change they need to understand the implications of their current behaviour on their team and the overall business. Focusing on the consequences and multilateral impact of actions will exemplify the relevance and impact of this approach/behaviour and increase the leader’s openness to embrace change.
  5. Think and act as a trusted advisor. Trust is a key component to creating a strong relationship. Maister, in his book “The Trusted Advisor”, developed a Trust Equation to help measure trustworthiness, composed of four factors: credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. One way of growing credibility and reliability and reducing any perceptions of self-orientation is to outline at the beginning of the session that the focus is purely set on the client and their success and growth.

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