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Mastering Constructive Feedback: Essential Tips for New Leaders

5 min read
crucial feedback

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Published August 17, 2023

crucial feedback

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Ted Skinner

Ted Skinner
a Rhythm Consultant

As new leaders, we often navigate the complexities of team management and relationship building. One of the most crucial skills in this journey is effectively giving feedback. This blog post, inspired by an insightful article by Patrick Thean in Harvard Business Review, offers a comprehensive guide on providing input and handling these "spicy" conversations. We’ll explore how to give feedback as a new leader based on working with thousands of them in the field.

Hbr how to give critical feedback

HBR Staff; Anton Vierietin/Getty Images

Building Strong Relationships through Feedback and Open Communication

The transition from an individual contributor to a manager involves a significant shift in responsibilities. As a manager, you're not only guiding yourself but also others. This new role requires you to have more challenging conversations than ever before. The key to handling these conversations effectively lies in building solid relationships with your direct reports through effective feedback.

The foundation of effective feedback is creating an environment that encourages open communication. This includes setting expectations and providing a platform for honest discussion. Establishing trust and encouraging authentic dialogue are vital to developing solid relationships with your team. It's essential to be clear about the purpose of the conversation, have a plan for how you will deliver the feedback, and be prepared to listen with an open mind.

At the outset of any feedback conversation, expressing your appreciation for your team's efforts and recognizing their successes is essential. This helps set a positive tone for the discussion and shows that you value their contributions. Once you've provided the appropriate context, focus on addressing specific areas of improvement and suggest ways in which they can grow. Rather than just pointing out areas that need improvement, provide constructive criticism.

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Direct Reports

Feedback is an essential tool for growth. It's not a monster out to destroy self-esteem but a bond-builder that strengthens relationships. As a leader, it's crucial to approach feedback with a coaching mindset. Regular one-on-one meetings with your team members provide an excellent opportunity to share positive and negative feedback.

When delivering critical feedback, it's essential to be respectful and non-judgmental. Start by giving your team member the benefit of the doubt and then offer guidance. For example, instead of saying, "Hey, you filled this report out all wrong. I need you to fix it," you might say, "I know this might be an unfamiliar process. Here are some areas where I see room for improvement." Explain the impact of their actions on the project, team, or goal to ensure they understand the "why" behind your feedback. Always allow them space to respond and offer your support for future improvements.

Constructive criticism helps recipients grow and develop. Making sure criticism is constructive is essential to the success of feedback. Ensure the recipient understands the context and impact of their behavior and provides constructive solutions to existing problems. It's also vital to ensure you don't inadvertently criticize someone's character or skillset; instead, focus on what needs to be done differently to improve performance.

Remember to focus on performance, not personality! Feedback should always focus on performance rather than personality. It's essential to be specific and provide concrete examples when giving feedback. This allows for a more productive dialogue and encourages recipients to take ownership of their actions and behavior. Feedback is important, and delivering it and referencing specific behaviors or actions is essential when delivering feedback other than a great job!


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Receiving Feedback from Direct Reports

Feedback is a two-way street. As much as you give feedback to your team members, you should also be open to receiving feedback from them. It is crucial to create a psychologically safe space where your team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

If your team members seem hesitant to approach you, directly ask for feedback. When you receive feedback, take it seriously and show your appreciation. Repeat back what they say to ensure you're on the same page, and then take steps to implement the feedback. This approach strengthens your bond with your team members and fosters a healthy work environment.

In addition to soliciting feedback from your team directly, there are a few other ways to ensure you receive helpful feedback. Consider setting up a formal feedback process such as anonymous surveys or regular one-on-one meetings with your team members. You can also create an open forum for discussion where everyone's opinions are heard and respected. Finally, consider incorporating feedback from external stakeholders such as customers or partners.

Overall, feedback is vital for growth and development. As a new leader, it's essential to understand the art of giving and receiving honest feedback to create a compelling and productive work environment. Conversations should always be happening, not just during the dreaded performance reviews. The more positive feedback, the better the employee morale, so ensure you find good news to share.

Executive Summary on Constructive Feedback as a Leader

Mastering how to share feedback is a skill that takes practice to develop, whether personal or professional. As a new manager, developing this skill is essential for your success. Once you master it, you'll find it much easier to maintain healthy and open communication with your team, leading to a better work environment, a thriving business, and better team meetings.

The fundamental principles for giving constructive feedback as a leader involve using clear and direct language, setting up an environment of trust, problem-solving, and providing positive reinforcement. The guide also discusses essential considerations when delivering constructive feedback, such as timing, audience, and context. By following the guidelines in this executive summary and practicing regularly, you will become a more effective leader and gain the respect of your team. This will allow you to pursue your dreams and goals more effectively and is a cornerstone of your professional development.

For more insights on this topic, check out the original article in Harvard Business Review.

Ted Skinner

Rhythm Systems Job Scorecard Template


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