By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

I hate to say it ... but it must be said. Leaders need to provide feedback – often and consistently.

Why do I hesitate to mention a key leadership behavior – a service required of effective leaders no matter whether they are leading at home, at work, in their communities or in their parishes?

My reluctance arises because far too many leaders think “feedback” means criticism.

And that’s just wrong.

By feedback I mean “a response to a follower’s behavior.” When it comes to responses, Lead Like Jesus co-founder Ken Blanchard says a leader has three choices: positive, negative or no response at all.

Of the three, he favors the first option – but says the third one is by far the worst one.

In his best-selling classic The One Minute Manager, Ken tells leaders they should devote time to catching people doing things right. In line with most research findings, he believes that positive feedback does the most to develop competent, contributing followers.

He even encourages leaders to praise followers when they are approximately right or they are making progress toward mastery.

Some studies suggest that for negative feedback to have any positive effect, it must be presented in the context of many more instances of positive feedback. One study reported in Harvard Business Review says the ratio on the best performing teams is 6:1.

But leaders – especially people without much experience leading – are often uncomfortable offering any kind of feedback, even if it’s positive.

It’s not easy judging others, and it’s usually even more difficult to share those judgments with those being judged. So they let opportunities for positive feedback pass, then find themselves even more reluctant to offer negative feedback, and ultimately don’t give their charges enough helpful direction to grow in constructive ways.

Ken’s advice: “Don’t just sit there, say something.”


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