How leaders can get (more) meaningful feedback

Forbes reported that 65% of employees want more feedback from their managers—they recognize the power of feedback and they’re fiends for it. It’s high time we (leaders and managers) did the same.

Last week I expanded on, and discussed, why leaders should crave feedback. But, before getting into the how—if you are wondering “Why feedback?” or still aren’t convinced feedback for leaders is important: click here.

Okay, great!—so you’re up to speed and craving some feedback. Let’s get into it.

“Yes, I’ll have one large feedback please…”

If you're craving meaningful, productive feedback—it’s not like ordering the #4 combo meal at a fast food joint.

There’s also no Gallup-style polling, no grapevine, no little birdie dropping feedback in your ear—and trust me, there will be no useful feedback written on the bathroom stall. And finally, if you’re relying on a suggestion box for collecting feedback, so help me god.

Feedback doesn’t materialize out of thin air—it takes work, effort, and a bit of vulnerability. Here’s some pointers to receive nothing but filet-mignon-feedback.

Establishing a psychologically safe space

Getting feedback is much more than simply asking for it, or granting permission to give it. If you want meaningful feedback, the first and arguably most important step is to create a psychologically safe space and an understanding of trust.

For subordinates, asking for feedback might feel like a trap or trick—a way for leaders to test and weed out who is loyal and who is a dissident.

An impactful way to overcome your team’s insecurities and concerns giving feedback—especially if it’s the first time your asking—is by showing you are human. Be real, humble, and honest—share your perspective and how just like them, you’re looking to grow and develop your skills, too.

Once you start getting feedback there’s so much you can do with it—it’s an extreme catalyst for growth. But, it all starts at square one: being vulnerable and creating a safe environment.

Be specific, be skillful—and be positive

Manager: “Hey, could I get some feedback?”

Employee: “Yeah sure, about what?”

Exactly, “about what?” As leaders, if we want productive feedback we need to be specific, intentional, and come to conversations armed with questions and an overwhelming willingness to listen.

Whether you’re seeking feedback from an individual or the entire team—make a plan and make it a conversation. And don’t think of feedback as exclusively about what you can do better, but also what you can keep doing well.

It’s not a debate or game—no need for defense

Getting feedback is not always peaches and cream—in fact, it can feel a little triggering. But, considering you wanted the feedback, and you need feedback, there’s no reason to feel attacked or behave defensively.

It’s important to control your emotions and not counter people’s feedback. Instead, you need to continue asking questions, actively listening—and you need to respond positively to feedback.

Whether it’s an early attempt to garner feedback from your team, or the 100th time, how you respond to feedback will dictate your team’s willingness to participate and provide feedback in the future.

Commitment and follow-through

Once you start getting feedback, you’re going to want to sustain and keep momentum going. You’re going to also want to honor those who gave you feedback, your so-called stakeholders.

For that to happen you need to be consistent and punctual.

So, after getting feedback, circle back around and follow up—schedule recurring 1:1’s, or ask for on-the-spot feedback from your team after a big pitch. It also doesn’t have to be a formal thing, maybe go grab a coffee together (a virtual coffee).

Feedback is not a single event or a transactional occurrence, but a continuous condition or state of mind. It’s a demonstration of service to your people and demonstration of a growth mindset.

Recognizing the importance of feedback from subordinates is not something most leaders embrace. However, the benefits of feedback exceed your professional improvement and personal growth.

Feedback builds trust between leaders and teams, it empowers everyone at every level to speak up and speak out—and it creates a greater level of collective resilience. But it doesn’t come automatically, without some discomfort—or from the drive thru window.

If you want meaningful, productive feedback, you're gonna have to put in the work.