Importance of feedback in leadership development and change management

Receiving feedback is like swallowing a bitter pill. No matter how strong we may be, it is difficult to accept feedback that is not positive and does not massage our egos. Acceptance of feedback is a sign of maturity and willingness to change. Individuals, teams and organisations that understand the importance of feedback have used it to their advantage for growth and development. Our society will be a better place if people willingly accept feedback and make the necessary changes. Despite the benefits of feedback, we resist it for the following reasons:

  1. We take feedback as criticism.
  2. Everyone likes to be praised.
  3. The assumption that we are perfect, although we know that no human being is perfect.
  4. Difficulty in facing the truth. Most people cannot handle the truth.
  5. It could be seen as a challenge to our persons and authority.
  6. Assumption that the person giving negative feedback is against us.

For feedback to be effective, it must be conducted and used in a way that makes the participants in the process comfortable. Marshall Goldsmith the author of the book, What got you here won’t get you theredescribed this process as “simple but brutal regimen” (Goldsmith, M., 2008, p.13). The regimen helps the recipient to understand what needs to happen for maximum impact and the respondents, the role they have to play to help the recipient.

The first stage in the process for effective feedback is for the recipient to accept the need for change and the feedback as input into the change process. The recipient should not be defensive even if she disagrees with the feedback. Being defensive will lead to the respondent’s refusal to give it when needed. The best response to feedback is to say “thank you” as the respondent invested time and energy in the process. Thank you, response is an indication that you have accepted the feedback.

After receiving feedback, the recipient should be prepared to apologise for any perceived negative feedback by the respondent even if the recipient does not agree with it. This is a signal that the respondent is willing to make amends. She should engage with the respondent and show sincerity in her willingness to change. This action will signal to the respondent that the recipient is remorseful and ready to change. Showing vulnerability is a signal of willingness to change and is a strength not weakness.

In engaging with the respondent, the recipient should acknowledge the feedback by saying, thank you. Any comment to the contrary will send the wrong message that either the recipient is defensive or that she does not see the need for change and does not require support. Thank you, is a sign of appreciation and gratitude. Marshal Goldsmith referred to this stage as advertising because you are telling everyone that you are ready to change and asking for their support.

Active listening is required in the engagement process as people can easily tell when you are not listening to them. When they perceive that you are not listening, they walk away with the impression that you are not willing to change. If your culture allows you to look at the other person in the eyes as a sign that you are listening, that is what you must do. It is the opposite in some cultures where you have to look down as a sign of respect. It goes without saying that you must not go into such meetings with your phone on.

The last part of effective feedback is follow up. You must constantly follow up with respondents to know how well you are doing in your identified areas of change. This is the only way to know if you are making progress. Perception is reality. If you believe you have made progress and the respondents feel differently, you have not succeeded.

For feedback to be effective according to Marshall Goldsmith (2008), the recipient should:

  1. Acknowledge it by saying, thank you to the respondent.
  2. Apologise for any perceived negative feedback.
  3. Advertise that you are ready to change.
  4. Practice effective listening in your engagement with the respondents.
  5. Thank the respondents for their help.
  6. Follow up with the respondent to confirm if you are making progress.

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