5 Reasons Leaders Don’t Give Tough Feedback

Most of us agree we can’t be great without candid feedback, especially about things we can improve in ourselves and our performance. Yet often we don’t receive this feedback at all or react poorly when we do. Lisa McKale recently published a very nice infographic on Resourceful Manager regarding this topic.

In my experience these are typical reasons most leaders do not provide consistent, effective, constructive feedback:Difficult Feedback

It’s Easier to Avoid Giving Tough Feedback …

… at least in the short run. Most leaders know that offering tough feedback is difficult. It requires preparation, thoughtfulness and a genuine interest in the person you give this type of feedback to. Many leaders prefer to focus on their daily responsibilities rather than take the time to deliver tough feedback well. Here’s the catch:  You’ll pay a long-term price if you withhold difficult feedback. Deprived of understanding how they can improve, your teammates will keep repeating similar mistakes. In this case, short-term pain is worth the long-term gain.

Many People React Poorly to Difficult Feedback

Although many individuals say they want constructive feedback, in reality they often react with denial, defensiveness or by being dismissive. It takes a fair amount of self-actualization to be able to handle (at least initially) a tough message with an open mind. Ah, the dreaded human nature. Leaders have to anticipate these reactions and adeptly navigate through them.  This requires patience, maturity and an understanding of the long-term benefit of delivering tough messages with tact.

Often Leaders Lack Training

Most leaders are well intentioned. Many times they don’t deliver constructive feedback because they haven’t received training in how to do this effectively. If you are not confident you have the skills to navigate a difficult conversation, it virtually eliminates your desire to engage in one. This is not a leadership skill you can develop overnight. It requires training, modeling from other leaders and also being on the receiving end of difficult messages that are well delivered. Virtually no leader delivers a truly effective tough message the first few times. This creates a reinforcing cycle of not performing well in these conversations and losing the desire to perfect the skill. No great leader I’ve worked with gives up the first few times they don’t do something well and neither should you.

Most People Desire to be Liked

Many leaders want to be liked by those they lead. Mature leaders understand that not everyone they lead will like them even if they are great leaders. People bring their own histories, feelings and beliefs to work with them. Sometimes, despite a leader’s best efforts to deliver tough feedback carefully, the recipient resents the messenger.  There is no shame in wanting to be liked; who wouldn’t? Yet truly exceptional leaders accept the fact that it will not always be possible. Sometimes it’s more important to be respected than liked.

Leaders Fear They’ll Kill Someone’s Spirit

Finally, some leaders are afraid that if they deliver a tough message it will damage someone’s spirit, self-confidence or drive. Sometimes they’re right, but not when they’re helping high performers who are rightly motivated. Strong performers with self-confidence (but not arrogance) understand the journey towards being great. No accomplished leader I have ever worked with has run away from a major setback in their career. Adversity is impossible to avoid throughout your career.  The true test is how you handle it.

Yes, it’s true that delivering tough messages is not for the faint of heart. But with the right intentions, when you deliver difficult feedback you will find your own style and ultimately master this key leadership skill. The long term gain is truly worth the short term pain!

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