What is your first thought when you hear the word feedback? Good? Bad? Ugly? Feedback is information provided by an agent like a peer, manager, or spouse regarding one’s aspect of performance or understanding. The purpose of feedback is to get people from where they are to where they want to be. It is perhaps one of the most underutilized practices in the lives of everyday leaders. Simply put, feedback is the breakfast of champions. As an executive and leadership coach, I thrive off of it. Feedback allows the person who is needing or wanting to develop to receive critical information on three key questions. Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next? The answer to these three questions allows the leader to move forward toward their goal. There are four levels of feedback that can be given to a person. These levels do not follow a progressive order. Rather the person giving the feedback must choose the level of feedback that is right for the leader and the situation.
1. Statement Level – this is the most common of the feedback levels. Typically the purpose of the feedback here is to provide information on how well the leader performed on a given task/job. Approximately, 90% of feedback given by others takes place at this level. While it can be effective in addressing a perspective it doesn’t address what needs to improve, but rather focuses on what the leader did wrong. The person giving the feedback targets the problem. Examples of feedback at this level may sound like, “You did not connect with your audience when you delivered that presentation” or “You’re late” or “I believe you are involved in too many activities and you will not complete that project on time.”
2. Thinking Level – the process level focuses on allowing the leader to reflect. Feedback at this level involves asking open ended questions which allows the leader to reflect on their own work? This creates error detection and brings awareness to the leader. It also challenges the leader to form a deeper understanding of learning and encourages them to construct learning on their own which proves more effective. Examples of feedback at this level may sound like, “How did you think you performed?” “What worked well for you?” “What did not work well for you?”
3. Self-Leading Level – this level of feedback focuses on the leader examining and adjusting his action toward the learning goal. Like the Thinking Level it allows the leader to self-assess but to a higher degree of ownership which can be incredibly empowering. This level of feedback involves the leader reflecting and asking for feedback. At this level the leader begins asking himself questions similar to the questions at the Thinking Level and then dialogues about actions that he can take. He may invite his peer or supervisor to provide him with specific feedback.
4. Relational Level – this level of feedback involves reflection on the leader and not on his work. An example might sound like, “Good effort Paul!” This type of feedback does not address any performance or direction for improvement. This may have a positive effect in relation to connecting with the leader or it may temporarily build him up, but it will do little to progress him forward. Instead the person giving the feedback must remember to complement the leader’s work or the way in which he did the work. An example might sound like, “I really enjoyed your effort and energy when you presented to the group.”
Although the Thinking Level & Self-Leading Level may be more effective in helping the leader achieve his desired outcome or to raise performance, it is important to remember that the Statement Level and Relational Level have their place too. The key to understand is that feedback is crucial to goal achievement.
Zenger Folkman conducted recent research on the power of feedback. According to the results, leaders ranked in the top and bottom 10% on asking for and giving feedback were also rated the highest or lowest in leadership effectiveness and engagement levels. In a sample of nearly 1,000 participants surveyed, key findings included:
• The same numbers of people prefer to give positive feedback as those who don’t.
• A significant number of people avoid giving negative feedback.
• People prefer receiving positive feedback to the same degree that they dislike giving negative feedback.
• Those people who find it difficult and stressful to deliver negative feedback were also significantly less willing to receive it themselves.
• There was a strong correlation between a person’s confidence level and his or her preference for receiving negative feedback.
• The response to the survey’s final question was more surprising. When asked if they would prefer praise/recognition or corrective feedback a significantly larger number (57%) preferred corrective feedback; only 43% preferred praise/recognition.
The study said that 92% of respondents reported that how corrective or redirecting feedback is delivered determined whether it was seen as effective at improving performance. That reinforces the importance of a leader’s ability to have courageous conversations by asking for feedback (Self Leading Level) and that giving feedback is a key coaching skill (Thinking Level).
Improved performance and goal achievement must include what I come to call The Breakfast of Champions---Effective Feedback. The people who completed the survey that did not want to receive or ask for feedback won’t have any fatal flaws, just weaker performance areas or uncompleted goals. The research clearly showed they’d be 2 – 3 times further ahead with receiving (Level 2) and asking (Level 3) for feedback.