Inspired Leadership

Why Managers Are Uncomfortable Giving Performance Feedback

One area of particular weakness in mid-level leaders and new supervisors that I have noticed in my 25 years of international leadership development training and coaching is their inability to give relevant, useful, and beneficial feedback.

In fact, giving feedback is one of the greatest fears of new leaders at all levels of an organization. As a result, a significant amount of workplace feedback is not worthy of the employee’s agreement or buy-in. Why is that? Let’s explore three critical areas that will help managers deliver more effective feedback.

The Feedback Process Is Frustrating

Few things are more frustrating to a manager or supervisor than giving feedback to a team member that is unappreciated, unheeded, ignored, not followed, or not implemented. Of course, this also adds to the reluctance to provide more feedback. It’s a vicious cycle.

The root cause for these problems comes from the historical way feedback has been taught in thousands of classrooms to millions of managers. I am referring to the “bookend” approach to giving feedback, where so-called negative feedback is sandwiched between two layers of semi-positive and hopefully optimistic platitudes.

We know now that the bookend or sandwiched approach does not work. The opening “positive” comment of “Gerald, you are a really important contributor” is almost always ignored as the recipient waits for that awful word “but” to indicate here comes the so-called negative part.

Additionally, workplace feedback is often not well thought out and lacks specificity. The resultant feedback is poorly delivered by the manager and becomes demotivating to the team member.

Manager Feedback vs. Leader Feedback

Another issue is too many supervisors and leaders put on their managerial hats when giving feedback. Here’s the distinction:

  • Managers give directions and directives. Hence, their feedback conversations focus on problems or issues and are one-way, prescriptive, and result in low buy-in.
  • On the other hand, leaders engage in two-way dialogs with team members, ask questions, and solicit input. Hence their feedback discussions are engaging, solution-focused, and garner higher levels of commitment and

Specific. Actionable

The two key elements of effective feedback, which are surprisingly missing in so much workplace feedback, are specific and actionable.

You must be very specific about the behaviors or actions that are being done well or that need improving. This is true for both reinforcing feedback and developmental feedback.

While telling someone, “nice job on that presentation yesterday” might make the other people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, this type of feedback is neither specific nor actionable. However, if you tell them, “nice job on that presentation yesterday, I really liked the way you handled the questions from the audience by using data,” you build confidence in that person’s competency in question.

Providing effective and actionable feedback to team members is an essential skill of good leaders. This is why it is one of the core skills taught in the Inspired Leadership Emerging Leaders program. Simply put, there is no way to build and lead a high-performing team without the ability to deliver actionable, relevant, and timely feedback that is relevant and motivational to team members.

To learn more about this important skill, contact Steven Howard


You might be interested to find out more about Giving Performance Feedback and access our Treasure Trove of recordings & gifts. 

About the author

Steven Howard brings expertise in leadership, business development, and marketing. An award-winning author of 20 books with 40 years of international senior sales and marketing experience, his corporate career covered a wide variety of fields and experiences, including Regional Marketing Director for Texas Instruments Asia-Pacific, South Asia / ASEAN Regional Director for TIME Magazine, Global Account Director at BBDO Advertising handling an international airline account, and VP Marketing for Citibank’s Consumer Banking Group.

He specializes in creating and delivering leadership development programs for frontline leaders, mid-level leaders, supervisors, and high-potential leaders. In the past 25 years, he has trained over 10,000 leaders in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, and North America.

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