On Leadership, Feedback and the Fuel of Achievement

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.” ~ Daniel Kahneman

The experience of giving and receiving feedback at best is a wonderful and enlivening experience, and at its worst can de-motivate and drive wedges between managers and their reports.

As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman said “People join companies but leave managers.

So is it the sole responsibility of managers to look after feedback? This theme invites you as a leader to take a more global view of feedback by fundamentally re-framing why it is needed, how it is done, what might be the overall benefits, consequences which can arise and what is everyone going to do about it?

Leaders cannot work in a vacuum. They may take on larger, seemingly more important roles in an organization, but this does not exclude them from asking for and using feedback. In fact, a leader arguably needs feedback more so than anyone else. It’s what helps a leader respond appropriately to events in pursuit of successful outcomes.” ~ Jack Canfield

Feedback Gone Wrong

A major Achilles heel of typical feedback is that it is only viewed as an interaction between a manager and an individual report or possibly a team. It’s often one-way traffic and an unpleasant experience for those receiving feedback. Reasons for this may arise from poor manager awareness, poor training, pressure, etc. but perhaps the most pernicious is patchiness in the quality and quantity of feedback.

Interpersonal feedback functions best as an integral component of an organisation’s overall multidimensional communications system. The intention is to establish an atmosphere where senior management elicits information, opinion and perceptions from their staff, acts on them and reports back on their actions.

6-Stage Process for Feedback

Jack Stahl’s (Revlon’s CEO) 6-stage process for feedback aligns organisational conversations and manager – report feedback.


  Individual & Organisational Feedback
Stage 1 Value the person/people
Stage 2 Identify personal/organisational challenges
Stage 3 Provide targeted meaningful feedback
Stage 4 Identify and agree areas for improvement/development
Stage 5 Identify and agree benefits and consequences of improvement options
Stage 6 Commit your support and reaffirm person/staffs effort and value


Feedback is generally most effective when considered as part of staff engagement efforts as described by Gruman and Sacs in their research published in Human Resource management Review.

Setting the Tone

It’s vital for leaders to set the tone by encouraging an overall culture of open information exchange to develop (supported by robust and accessible HR & IT systems) making it possible to:

  1. Provide safe environments to build trust based on knowledge and rapport.
  2. Exchange authentic criticism and affirmative feedback
  3. Establish a cultural norm based on accepted feedback behaviours.
  4. Create feedback based on personal and organisational accountability

Steve Jobs says it all in his interview on managing people and the Apple ideas-based ethos.

He said, ideas always beat hierarchy.”

Re-framing Our Perceptions

If we re-frame our perception of and intention for feedback to mean honest, authentic, empathic, creative, effective  and productive conversation across an entire organisation then great things will follow.

Your Actions Today

  • Does your organisation have a communication system aligned with interpersonal feedback practices?
  • Do your reports get to provide feedback on you do you listen and do you act on it?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 most effective) do you know how effective your feedback to reports actually is?
  • Does your organisation act upon synthesised from all staff feedback?

Recommended Reading

Feedback Revolution: -From Water Cooler Conversations To Annual Reviews — HOW TO GIVE AND RECEIVE EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK – Peter McLaughlin


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Gary Coulton

Dr Gary R Coulton is CEO of Adaptive Intelligence Consulting Limited
He empowers leaders to release their Adaptive Intelligence
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Larry Walker on August 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Gary, A very useful piece. It reminded me of something I learned back in the 70’s. Someone taught me that every person has both ‘line’ and ‘staff’ duties. Line duties are those things that primarily define your role or job. Staff duties are those thing related to keeping the organization on track (e.g. feedback). The person who introduced me to this insisted that each of us treat the staff roles as important. He would have like your article. ******

    The origin of line and staff is also memorable to me. The Line people were the soldiers at the front of the Roman army. The STAFF people were those people right behind the line people who used their staffs to keep the line people in the line!!



  2. Gary R Coulton on August 20, 2014 at 6:03 am

    Larry, Interesting observation. In this post I am attempting to discuss how an organisations overall system for engendering meaningful and productive conversations with staff (and external stakeholders and customers) should align with one to one conversations which include what we currently term as feedback. I feel we need to re-frame feedback to be something which is distinct from appraisal.

    • Larry Walker on August 20, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Gary,
      I agree 100% with your idea that feedback needs to be viewed as separate from appraisal. It should be viewed as supporting personal, professional, and/or organizational improvement. Cheers. Larry

  3. Doug Ramsey on August 26, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Good info and very helpful. Thank you. In my experience, there are 2 pieces that leaders must master to establish psychological safety, openness, mutual respect, trust and credibility within the work group. Even good feedback can ring hollow without these positive and grown up cultural elements. Feedback which you have covered nicely is one of the keys. The other important behavior is leader disclosure. Leaders need to become people by telling their stories as they work together with others. In my experience feedback will resonate more effectively and stick if people know who you are, that you can be trusted and that your motives are truly in their best interests. So much feedback is a “talking at” and not a “talking to” process. My opinion and I could be wrong… Doug

  4. Gary R Coulton on August 27, 2014 at 5:15 am

    Hi Doug, nicely put. We often forget that work is also about developing meaningful and authentic relationships and that open conversation is crucial. When leading a team some ten years ago I fell into the mistake of feeling I had to stand aside and aloof from them in order to be a leader. Their honest opinion when I got their feedback on my performance was that they did not know me and felt I was holding something back. This was always an undercurrent when we talked and so the felt ditched and less motivated. It was a harsh lesson but incredibly valuable.