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Leadership Challenge: Dissecting Feedback Delivery

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To help others develop, improve, and strive for excellence, there are times when providing feedback is necessary. On the surface giving feedback seems simple; just tell someone what they did wrong and how to fix it. The problem is this type of constructive criticism rarely inspires improvement, let alone growth and development for our peers or employees. The way we provide feedback makes a difference in how people receive and act on the feedback.

Research shows negative feedback is often received as a threat, which leads to depression and anxiety. In some cases, it can cause our peers to begin to avoid us and seek out other peers who are less judgmental. Telling someone what to do or how to do it is rarely a good idea anyway. As humans, we aren’t very good at giving others feedback on their performance. More than half of our assessment of someone else is a projection of our own characteristics. Rather than criticizing those around us, focus on delivering positive feedback messages that will inspire changes in behavior.


Read the following scenario and both feedback conversation examples, then answer the reflection questions below:

A nonprofit organization has been developing a plan to become a self-sustaining nonprofit with revenue streams that support its philanthropy. The organization’s employees have been divided up into three separate teams, one for each revenue stream. Kathryn is the lead on Monty’s team, she is responsible for communicating the team’s strategic vision and priorities, deadlines, and reports to the chief executive officer. Monty is responsible for product design and is unable to begin his work until details have been finalized. He feels like Kathryn could communicate better and lacks the strategic vision needed to lead this project. After several team meetings, Monty asks Kathryn if she has time to talk.

Conversation 1:

Monty starts the conversation, “I really think you could use some feedback about our team meetings. You need to make some changes. Things aren’t really working well. Your communication skills need improvement and our strategy is all over the place. If I were you, I would get a smaller group together to develop a strategic plan, and then create detailed action plans with each team member. I know you’re smart, you just bit off more than you can chew with this project.”

Conversation 2:

Monty starts the conversation, “After our meetings I find myself struggling to understand our strategy and what my next steps are. I am concerned our team is falling behind compared to the other two teams. When I have managed projects in the past, I have found that creating a detailed outline of the strategic plan and assigning actions to each team member has worked well for the team because it was clear and concise. I would then end every meeting by clarifying our next steps. I would be interested in listening to what you think would help the team better understand their priorities. I know the stress of managing an important project can be overwhelming, is there anything I can do to better support you?”

Kathryn responded with, “I really appreciate you bringing up my lack of clear communication about our team’s strategy, I didn’t realize that’s how our meetings were coming off. I can see how clarifying next steps with team members before we leave the meeting is essential to our success, I will start doing that. Could we work together to develop a strategic plan for the team to follow? Your experience with project management can really help our team execute well.”

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