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Hosted by Tom Henschel

Getting Good Feedback


November 2005

Engaging in a feedback conversation that yields valuable insights is not intuitive for most of us. This five-part model gives you tools you can use tomorrow immediately to help you boost your career.

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November 2005

Getting Good Feedback

Tom Henschel

Michael is an industry leader. He has owned his own companies and been a Chief Officer twice. He’s now a division president at what he says is the best company he’s ever worked for. And his CEO just gave him a piece of feedback which shook him deeply.

“I’ve been leading companies for over fifteen years,” he said looking out his window. “Where has this feedback been? Has everyone known it and never told me?”

“Most likely,” I said quietly.

Every book on leadership sooner or later exhorts the leader to look inward. The simple truth is that every one of us has ways we can improve. But how can we know we’re improving the right thing?

The answer: feedback.

What follows are 5 behaviors display that will help you get meaningful feedback.

  1. Ask often
    If your boss came to you this afternoon and asked, “How am I doing as your boss?” would you tell her everything you know? Doubtful. Even in our most intimate relationships, few of us feel safe enough to share how we really experience another person.But if every month your boss asked you the same question, by the third month or so you might believe she really wants to hear your thoughts. And you’d have deepened your thinking about it. You might finally begin to venture some meaningful information.If you want deep, insightful feedback, ask often. And ask in person in a comfortable setting.
  2. Ask a varied audience
    If you only ask one person for feedback, no matter what they say, don’t change anything! It’s just not statistically valid. Similarly, don’t ask only your fans. Or only people with whom you have troubled relationships. Or only your superiors. Or only your direct reports.You get the point: ask ALL those groups. Then listen for repeated themes. That’s where your growth opportunities will be.
  3. Be specific
    The more you direct the feedback, the richer it will be. Maybe you have a sense that you damage relationships. You might say, “I’m wondering if you can think of ways I could build stronger relationships.” Or maybe you have a goal in mind. You might say, “What do you think I need to do to be ready for a promotion in six months?”Other examples: “I’m working to be more inclusive. Can you tell me how you do and don’t experience me as an inclusive leader?” “I’m concerned that people are not speaking up in meetings and that I may be contributing to that. Can you help me understand this a little better?”Ask for the feedback which will help you most.
  4. A script for feedback
    If you’re not sure how to direct the feedback, the following model is a powerful way to gather broad, developmental feedback:“I’m trying to be more effective in my role. What do you think I should start doing that I’m not doing now? What do you think I should stop doing that I am doing? And what should I be sure to continue doing that you think is going well?”These three questions make up the model called “Start/Stop/Continue.” It should happen as an easy flowing conversation; let the person answer one question at a time.
  5. Your response
    After people give you feedback, even if it felt like a punch to the gut, there are only two acceptable responses:

    • “Thanks. I really appreciate that.”
    • “Can you clarify what you meant when you said . . . ?”If you hear yourself explaining why you did something or ever using the word “but,” STOP TALKING IMMEDIATELY. If you don’t stop, you’ll appear defensive and won’t get meaningful feedback again.

Remember: there are only two acceptable responses to feedback. Period. This is tough but critical.

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