Leadership Challenges, Part 1: Giving Critical Feedback

Steve Huffman, former CIO, Beacon Health System

I think we are losing the ability to give and receive critical feedback. I know that is an over-generalization, but in the participation trophy society in which we live, it is becoming more and more challenging for leaders to impart wisdom and advice without being discounted as being overly critical.

When I was growing up, I participated in band program and was somewhat musically inclined. Throughout my teenage years I received a lot of feedback. When I inquire with others who participated in sports activities or other extracurricular activities, it is a similar story – feedback, even critical feedback, was important to improve. Throughout my entire working career in the marketplace, feedback was exceedingly important to understand how I could improve.

The question was recently asked to me, how do leaders today give feedback without being perceived as negative or overly critical?

As I think through this challenge, here are some tips to consider:

  • There should be an emotional bank account to dip from. If you are only giving feedback without a relationship, you can easily be discounted as always being negative.
  • Give feedback in a timely manner. Memories fade quicker than you think. Giving feedback on something that happened a few weeks ago won’t be as effective as giving feedback on something that happened yesterday.
  • Share feedback out of a foundation of improvement. Giving feedback should be drafted out of a desire to improve. Feedback should never be a means to an end, rather a suggestion to help a person be even better than they are now.
  • Don’t over compliment to bookend critical feedback. When you need to share feedback for improvement, don’t fall into the trap of always giving praise before and after the criticism. You will end up softening the feedback that should be given and could miss the core message you are trying to impart. Give praise when praise is due, but don’t overpraise just to give criticism.
  • Go beyond the critical. Don’t just share, “Your performance was terrible.” Share what they could have done differently to make it better, and be specific!
  • Follow-up. This is a frequently missed tip! Follow-up in a few days to see if the individual understood, if there are any questions, or if they disagree. Many times, taking the time to process your feedback generates an even healthier discussion a few days later.

In a follow-up post, I will share a few tips on how to receive feedback.

[This piece was written by Steve Huffman, former CIO at Memorial Health System of South Bend and Beacon Health System. To view the original post, click here. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveHuffman_IN.]

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