Feedback in leadership: giving and receiving it to promote staff growth


Whether you are a new start-up or an established business, leadership is something which is essential for success. This is of course true at a senior level, where CEOs and COOs help drive the company in the right direction. Leadership is also important in all managerial roles within a company – even if they are not operating at an executive level as yet.

Team leaders, for example, play a key role in the success of any business and not only motivate their staff to perform well but also help deliver the type of service customers want. One very important part of any leadership role is the ability to give and receive feedback. But what role does feedback play in leadership, and how can leaders handle feedback effectively in order to promote staff growth?

What is feedback in leadership?

Before we delve deeper in into the role that feedback plays in leadership, it is best to first clarify what feedback in leadership is.

In short, it refers to the communication of information which can help an individual staff member perform better. Feedback in leadership can also involve highlighting when an individual has performed well and giving them positive affirmation of this.

Feedback can be received – not just given

The interesting thing is that feeding back as a leader is not just confined to passing on information to staff members about their performance. It can also involve listening to their responses and receiving feedback from them. This might involve employees letting you know how you handled their session or specific factors that have impacted their performance lately.

In addition to this, feedback about your leadership or team could be received from a variety of external sources. You may, for example, be contacted by a member of the public with information about how a member of staff dealt with them, or you may hear from a colleague in another department about how your team behaves.

It is also key to note that feedback in leadership can relate to the business in general. This might involve your receiving information that the business has had a record year for sales, or you may gain feedback on a new finance policy from staff which you then pass to senior colleagues for action.

What skills are needed for leaders to give and receive feedback effectively?

The above gives a good general overview of feedback in leadership, but it is not quite as easy as this makes it seem. Feedback can often be something which leaders find tough to either give or receive properly, and this can bring its own challenges.

A good tip for any would-be leader is knowing which skills are required for both giving and receiving feedback in the workplace. These include:

  • Communication (verbal and written)
  • Inter-personal skills
  • Accuracy and an eye for detail
  • Problem solving
  • Conflict resolution
  • Listening
  • Compassion
  • Honesty

With the above in mind, it is worth finding out how best to learn the skills needed to handle feedback when moving into management. The best option is following a course like the Master’s in leadership online from St Bonaventure University. This flexible, convenient program contains all the knowledge needed to not only lead effectively but also give and receive feedback.

What is the role of feedback in leadership?

When it comes to management and leadership, feedback is ever-present and something which can be valuable. Although we have looked at what feedback in leadership is, it is worth pinning down the crucial role it plays in business. To begin with, it is best to consider the role of feedback given by leaders to staff they manage.

In terms of this sort of feedback, the effects can be profound. Recognition of going the extra mile in their role or performing well consistently, for example, can improve an employee’s morale. This can motivate future performance and productivity. This positive attitude can also rub off on other team members, who will be inspired to perform to their maximum capabilities as a result.

If the feedback given is not as positive, it still plays a key role in business for leaders. It can help an individual member of staff understand that they are not performing as expected and that this is not acceptable. In addition, it can tell them specifically what they are not doing well enough at the moment and give advice on how to improve.

Feedback can also play a crucial role in leaders establishing their authority with staff and showing that they are proactively monitoring performance. It also shows that staff will be praised for doing well, and this can cause positive feedback to help build closer bonds with employees.

What is the role of feedback received by leaders in business?

The importance of feedback in leadership is without doubt, and this means that the ability to give detailed feedback to staff on their performance is crucial. This is because it helps to maintain performance levels over time and motivates employees to keep growing professionally.

Just as critical, though, is feedback which is received by leaders within an organization. This could relate to the feedback on the leader’s own performance, feedback on the business itself, or feedback around their team which needs attention.

When it comes to feedback around a leader’s own performance, this is vital for helping the leader grow professionally and become better. You may for example speak to a team member who did not tell you they would be in late one day but then get feedback that this was because they find you unapproachable. By listening to this and reflecting on it, you can then try to become more approachable in general moving forward.

Feedback received on other colleagues or your team in general is also something that can be useful. You may get feedback from a staff member that a colleague in another department is constantly rude to them on the phone or that someone in your own team is not pulling their weight. By receiving this type of information with an open mind, you can pick up on issues you might not otherwise know about.

What role does feedback given to senior figures play?

The last major role feedback in leadership has is its impact on the wider business. Staff, for example, may come to a leader and give feedback on recent changes to HR policy. This can then be passed on to senior management figures for consideration and action if needed. This is just one example of how feedback received can help leaders address any staff concerns and how it has a wider implication on the whole company.

Of course, feedback can also be something that is proactively given by leaders to senior managerial figures too. This could be thoughts on future directions for the business a leader might have or ideas on how their team could be restructured to drive future efficiency.

Leaders may also give feedback to senior executives on staff members who are performing well or have the potential to be future executives themselves. By doing this, leaders are able to boost not only their own career opportunities but also those of their team members.

How can leaders effectively give feedback for staff to develop with?

If we focus on feedback in terms of staff development, then it is key for leaders to know how to effectively give and receive it. This can make all the difference when it comes to feedback being a useful tool for continued professional development.

But how can leaders effectively give feedback in a way which helps staff grow? To begin with, you should pay attention to how the feedback is given and the space you do it in. Most people will prefer to get feedback in a one-on-one setting rather than in a group in front of colleagues.

This is because information on their performance is personal to them and they may not want to share it with people they work with. By understanding this and ensuring you give feedback individually, they are more likely to listen to what you say and take it to heart.

As noted above, the space you give feedback in is also important. Trying to find a space which people find non-threatening and are comfortable talking in is key here. It is also essential to find somewhere private where you will not be interrupted. Doing this will help people open up, remain more focused on what is said, and be more ready to use any feedback given to develop with.

Timing and communication are also key

As in most of life, timing is crucial if feedback is to have the desired effect and provide a base for future growth. If you get this right, then your feedback will be something people take onboard and work on to enhance their performance. If your timing is off, though, your feedback could fall on deaf ears and not have the effect you hoped.

With this in mind, it is crucial to think about the person you will be giving feedback to and when the right time might be. If they are having a hard time at home or are in the middle of a massive project with a tight deadline, you may want to wait for a more opportune moment. By doing so, it is more likely they will listen to what you say and take some form of action on it.

It is also crucial for business leaders to think about how they deliver feedback in order to stimulate growth in their team. Even if you are needing to flag where someone could improve or where they have stepped out of line, you must do so with compassion. If the individual feels you are simply attacking them or telling them off like a naughty child, they will not be motivated to use what you say to improve.

Remember that feedback is encouragement for them to continue excellent work or to help them improve. It is therefore key to be careful of the language you use, what your body language says when delivering feedback, and the general tone you use.

Focus on specifics

One very important part of giving feedback to helping staff grow is being specific. This means having concrete examples of the things you speak to them about. Although this is useful when praising people for doing well, it is also very important when delivering more negative feedback.

In this instance, specifics around their behavior or work are an essential. Without these in place, staff will tend to discard your feedback and not buy into what you are telling them. They may also not agree with your comments and deny them. Without specific examples to bring up, this is a tricky situation to overcome.

You may, for example, say to a staff member that they are always late on a Monday morning and have a record of them logging onto their work PC 15 minutes late every Monday for the last month. With this to show them, they cannot deny it and are forced to develop a more punctual mindset moving ahead.

How can leaders effectively receive feedback to stimulate growth?

Giving feedback is often something those in leadership positions prepare to handle – but what about receiving it in a way which can promote growth? This is just as important and can be useful as a tool for your team to improve with.

But what are the best ways to receive feedback in a way which can aid future staff development?

Listen actively

The biggest tip around taking feedback to heart to aid development is simply listening properly to what is being said. By doing this, you are able to take onboard all the key information and understand fully what the feedback is telling you. You can then use it to target problem areas and offer assistance for staff members or your wider team to develop as professionals.

You may have a senior management figure come to you and offer feedback that one of your employees addresses them too informally. You can then meet with the staff member in private to pass this on and ask them to be more professional in future. By listening to the feedback properly, they can grow as an employee and a business professional.

Another good example is a staff member coming to you and advising that a colleague is struggling with a new IT system for customer relationship management which has been introduced. By listening to this feedback, you can speak privately with the person in question to offer additional training on the system if needed and also help with building their IT skills in general.

Don’t take it personally

If feedback received relates to the performance of your team or specific staff members, it is key to not take it personally. When people make the decision to offer feedback, it is usually something they do not do lightly and only when they feel it is truly needed.

People will also be offering their thoughts as a means to aid growth and stimulate improvements – not as a personal attack on your team or people you might be close to professionally. By keeping this in mind, you will be more open to what the feedback says and more likely to follow up on it. This can in turn not only see you develop as a leader but also help your team improve in future.

Take action if needed

Listening to feedback is important but it will not help promote growth in your team if you do not act on it. If you do not make any changes you feel necessary based on the information you have received, then it will not have a positive impact on growth in the real world.

One thing to be careful of before acting is whether the feedback is valid and does need dealing with. In light of this, it is best to ask for evidence or specific examples when people are giving feedback on certain issues. If a customer contacts you to say a team member has been rude to them over email, you must ask them to send you the email in question and also confirm with the employee in question before acting.

But how can acting on feedback received help your team improve? In its most basic sense, it helps to highlight areas individual staff members need to work on and enables you to suggest ways they can do this. For issues which seem to affect the team in general, acting on received feedback can help leaders get to the core of the problem and help employees perform better moving ahead. It may also see you put on targeted training for the team in general to help them pick up key skills they seem to lack currently.

Feedback in leadership is key to growth

As the above shows, feedback in leadership is crucial within business and plays a vital role in the success of any organization. This is in terms of feedback given to staff on their performance but also feedback leaders may receive on the their team’s performance too.

By being able to deal with both of these things effectively, business leaders can help their teams grow over time and develop on a professional level. Feedback is also something that leaders can receive to help their own professional development and give to bosses to stimulate improvements within the organization.

Heather Jones
Heather Jones
Heather Jones is the Social Good reporter at Businessner, covering online stories about digital activism, climate justice, accessibility, and more. Outside Businessner, Heather is an avid film watcher, bread maker, concert goer, and California enthusiast. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.