Highest Leadership Imperative – Part 1

by Clyde C. Lowstuter

One word – Feedback.

The giving and receiving of constructive feedback is the most important role that a leader has. In order to achieve an optimal performance out of ourselves, as well as our team, leaders need to provide feedback in such a manner as to elicit clear and immediate change. This can only happen if feedback in your organization is seen as a gift and not a burdensome duty. To do it well –you need a blend of head, heart, and guts.

Best intentions, notwithstanding, feedback feels like negative criticism most of the time. Rather than being open and receptive, we often quickly become defensive and entrenched in our own position. Let’s face it – giving and receiving feedback is rarely performed or received well.

Business Team LookingBefore giving or receiving feedback it is important to remember that feedback is a mindset and trust is a key component. If you trust that the person giving you feedback is highly supportive and is a champion for your future success, then your mental and emotional state would be more one of positive expectancy, not guarded and defensive.


  1. Create a culture of feedback in an open atmosphere of learning and improvement. One way to begin is by being the feedback role model. Ask for feedback from your direct reports: “What might I do differently to achieve even greater results?” or “What more can I do to bring out the most in our team?”
  2. Have a dialogue – not a monologue. Ask for input. After you discuss your report’s successes, strengths, and developmental needs, request her insights and recommendations. Come up with a plan for growth together.
  3.  Learn to read others’ body language to be aware of how your actions and communications land with others. If you see that your feedback is being taken poorly – stop – claim accountability for causing defensiveness in her and refocus the conversation. Say something like: “I’m sorry. You can see that I am passionate about this issue; I may have said that in a tone that came across more harshly than I intended. Let me say it differently.”
  4. Don’t be emotional. If you are highly upset you run the risk of saying things that might irreversibly damage the relationship and crush the spirit of the other person. Evaluate if the “offense” is cause for immediate termination or if it is a situation that can be “fixed” and not done again. Take a deep breath. Calmly discuss the incident and ask, “What’s the learning and what can you and I do to ensure this never happens again?”
  5. To provide constructive feedback that is supportive, practical, and immediately applicable you need to be clear in your expectations, including your commitment to her success. The issue may be less about this person’s error in judgment and more about your lack of clarity about performance expectations. Be authentic and vulnerable, while taking accountability for your own actions. Sometimes, the best way to begin is by acknowledging, “Mea culpa, I did you a disservice in not being more clear…”
  6. Conversely, if a person’s performance or behavior continues to slip after feedback, it is critical that you determine if the issue is Attitude (the person is unwilling to do the work) or Competency (she is unable, as she is in way over her head and does not have the intellectual bandwidth or agility, or experience to succeed). Once you have determined this, discuss your expectations and explore possibilities – further education and training or alternative roles, inside or outside of the company.

Best of luck providing constructive feedback in a manner that enhances performance, trust, and commitments.

I’d love to hear about some of the strategies that you’ve employed that have been highly successful, as well as those approaches that have blown up . . . and what you’ve learned.

Next time, look for Part II – Receiving Feedback…


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