In the realm of business and leadership that we call communication there is knowledge and there is wisdom. With regard to knowledge there are enough self help books on communication to stretch to the sun and back - just kidding, but there are a lot! Knowledge, it would follow then, is not a barrier to communication and yet the issue of timely direction and feedback remains one of the top issues for most companies.
How then does wise leadership apply this knowledge to deal with feedback? Joseph Folkman, a Forbes contributor and behavioral statistician conducted several studies on feedback and communication as it relates to leadership effectiveness. His findings are instructive and insightful..
Not surprising in the findings was the trend that leaders who provide honest and timely feedback (direction, instruction and help) had employee engagement levels that consistently ranked in the top 10th percentile. Alternately leaders who failed to provide that feedback had employee engagement in the bottom 15th percentile.
What was interesting was another finding related to this study which showed that leaders who consistently sought feedback from their employees, peers and their bosses ranked among the top 10th percentile and had a "leadership effectiveness" score of 86%! What is interesting about this is that it suggests that effective leaders understand that feedback is a loop or to put it more plainly a dialogue.
You may be thinking that this is simply a statement of the obvious and you would be right. What this doesn't address is the fact that although this seems simple and obvious why isn't it happening more? Let me suggest two ideas; perspective and practice.
Perspective is how you look at your role and the role of those around you. I would suggest that these successful leaders take the perspective that their staff, their team need to be given every chance to succeed and to ensure that is happening they provide genuine and timely feedback. Genuine feedback covers both positive and negative components of someones performance. Tell them when they are doing the right things and correct them when they are not. Good leaders know that they are responsible for the success of their team and there is no shortcut with regard to feedback. They understand too that they need feedback and when they ask for it they are not only engaging in a dialogue but also creating a milieu of respect.
Practice is where true wisdom comes into play. The art of genuine and timely feedback is something that good leaders know they have to practice. Even the best communicators in the world know they have to discipline themselves to be present, to provide that regular communication and to build that atmosphere of respect. Many great leaders I know and have worked with have lists and schedules that they follow rigorously so that they know they are staying on top of the feedback loop. They know too well how the tyranny of the urgent can rob them of those opportunities that truly drive engagement and performance with their team.
Don't be shy about admitting to having a list or a schedule because what you really communicate is that your team is important enough for you to make that a priority. Feedback is like anything else, the more you practice the better you get at it. I read once that Michael Jordan threw literally hundreds of thousands of practice shots and he never stopped doing it right up to the end of his career. So practice your feedback, ensure your perspective is about the success of your team and don't stop, it will be worth it in the long run.