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How to become a successful leader by inspiring people

How Successful Leaders Give Honest Feedback That Inspires People and Does Not Hurt Their Ego

Leaders are considered as a group of people that are looked up to, yet are also always analyzed, misinterpreted and misunderstood. Everything you do as a leader needs to be correct and moderate. You cant be too nice and too harsh, need to get the job done but not be aggressive, friendly yet not exactly familiar. Its an impossible balance you need to maintain, something like juggling on a tight rope.

Communicating as a leader is never easy.

You need to communicate well to be a good leader. A leader without great communication skills will be dysfunctional and will not perform right.

Communication has many facets, but one area that becomes problematic to most leaders is providing feedback. There are many varieties of leaders who give different types of feedback, such as the never satisfied always unhappy leader to the leader who never says anything in terms of feedback. A good leader needs to appreciate the value the right feedback can add to  the workforce and getting work done from them, and also understand the importance of giving this feedback in the right manner.


Understand that different feedback has different effect on people.

Feedback comes in many forms and you need to know what type of feedback you are giving. Feedback can be divided in to four models as per Kevin Eikenberrys four types of feedback model.

  • Negative feedback: corrective comments about past behavior (things that didn’t go well).
  • Positive feedback: affirming comments about past behavior (things that went well and should be repeated).
  • Negative feedforward: corrective comments about future behavior (things that shouldn’t be repeated in the future).
  • Positive feedforward: affirming comments about future behavior (things that would improve future performance).

According to Kevin, it is important to maintain a balance between the positives and negatives, and focus on guidance that will help improve the performance in the future. Many leaders forget to focus on the future and way forward as they give their feedback.

The goal of feedback is to help your team gain an insight about what works, what does not and how they can develop further by dropping the negatives. Just giving them a commentary with negative or positive feedback will not be enough. Instead, it should be a tool that will give them something to learn and go forward. Just a commentary is not actually effective.


Balance the positives and negatives to give good feedback.

As much as understanding “what” good feedback consists of, it is also equally important to know “how” to give good feedback. Vague, unspecific and insincere praise that is called “blanket praise” is probably the most ineffective way to give your feedback.

A generic statement that goes like “Thank you team for the job well done” sounds good and positive, but this is not really feedback. It does not tell the team what they did right and how, and what performance to repeat and what to avoid or improve in the next project. This type of feedback is also not individualized and hence the members who worked extra hard will feel disgruntled. Saying “Great job team” is something that any leader will generally do but feedback should be much more than this.

Here are a few tips to provide balanced and unbiased, effective feedback.

  1. Make sure your feedback is objective and not emotional in nature.

Dont let your emotions get the better of you. Specially when you are dealing with major mistakes and issues, take time to cool off and do not blow your steam off your team. Try to be objective with how you see the situation. Your feedback should help fix the situation, and be helpful and actionable.

  1. Target behaviors, NOT the person or the team.

We all have instances where we instantly dislike people. As a leader, you are only human and cannot be expected to like everyone. But, as a leader you should have the perspective to respect them, and value their contribution. You should not let your personal feelings get in the way of making right decisions and avoid personal attacks. Your feedback should always be authentic and directed at positive actions and not to hurt people.

  1. Keep the feedback balanced and always affirm positive behaviors you want to be repeated.

Dont be the boss that can never be satisfied. Balance the positives with negatives, and make sure your positive behavior is about specific and reproducible behavior.

Make use of the 70% rule when you give positive feedback. That is, if you are giving someone positive feedback, for 30% of positive feedback you need to give 70% of negative feedback focusing on points of improvement.

  1. When giving negative feedback, be sure you provide suggestions and guidance on how performance can be improved in the future.

Negative feedback, given right, is essential for growth. This does not mean that you alway need to point out the failures, but that you need to point out the negative and give suggestions for corrective action. Constant negatives will ultimately demotivate your team, unless you give ways of improvement.

  1. Focus on the strengths of your team and show them how to leverage their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.

Combine the negatives with positives. If you have a member who keeps getting late for everything, explain how his behavior affects the entire team, and take the additional step to use the strengths of the individual to combat the weakness. For example, you can make him arrange the meeting room before hand, or have him moderate the meeting to combat the weakness of tardiness.

  1. Engage in dialogue, not a monologue.

Dont lecture your team but talk to them. Make your converations personal and engaging for the best outcome. Let the team feel that you have their best interest in heart. And give them the opportunity to take part in the conversation as well, getting their feedback and helping them figure out ways to improve themselves by themselves.

  1. Timing is everything when it comes to giving feedback too.

Know when to talk and when not to talk. Giving the right feedback at the right time can make or break a team. Dont kick your team when they are down. Knowing when to give the right feedback – how – is a crucial skill leaders need to master.

When you are a leader, communication is no longer about you, what you think and your circumstances. You are now expected to guide others, try to identify and cater to their needs, understand their problems and add value to your team. Its about driving the team forward to get results.


How to become a successful leader by inspiring people

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