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How to Give Feedback to Your Executives

Possibly the most challenging role of a leader is providing feedback that will teach, motivate, push people forward, and make them better professionals. It’s also one of those things that’s given the least attention when in actuality it demands the most. There are a range of types of feedback an executive can receive; from negative, positive, constructive, and even positive feedback that is not constructive.

Negative feedback refers to feedback that is intended to criticize past behavior, but without any suggestions as to how to correct it in the future. Positive feedback is an appreciation of past behavior with an expectation or tips for it to be repeated. Constructive feedback describes what exactly can be improved without judgement. And positive feedback that isn’t constructive is a positive comment on past behavior without any suggestion as to how to continue that behavior or apply it in other scenarios. And, there is also the leader who provides no feedback at all or the one who is never satisfied. While there are more variations of the different kinds of feedback, these are the most common.

Giving feedback to your executives

But as Bill Gates once said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve”.

And to really improve you need to give the right kind of feedback. People usually do not respond well to feedback. They feel judged and usually shut down. And that is never a good thing. While some people may respond to positive feedback and others to negative feedback, the question is whether they actually better themselves from it. Because that is the goal.

Create an environment of genuine care

To reduce the negativity felt while employees are receiving feedback from you it is important for you to come from a place of genuine care. While you might not realize it, genuinely caring about the people you are mentoring can reflect in your tone of voice, choice of words, and body language. And that’s what people receive more than the actual word you might be saying. While mentoring people and talking to them about something that might come easily to you because of your experience, it is easy to get frustrated and that will come across to them, unless you truly care for their well-being and growth. So while you maintain that in conversations with them, also create an environment and culture of care and productivity within the team. This will not only help your executives absorb your constructive feedback from a place of care more effectively, but will also allow employees to approach each other with care.

While you might struggle to appreciate everyone on your team, you need to be mindful to address the kind of behavior rather than the person who displayed it. Making something you dislike a personal affair is easy, and there is where your seniority and leadership come in. As hard as it might be you have to respect the person while condemning their behavior. If not, your negative or personal attack towards them could have a lasting and very serious effect on that person. This is part of genuinely caring and giving authentic feedback to your employees. This will eliminate a nature of judgement and fear of ridicule and foster an encouraging environment to collectively be better and grow into better professionals.

Focus on their strengths and their goals

It’s convenient and easy to focus on what an employee should or should not do. Instead, tell them how good they are at a particular task, activity, or even relationship and ask them to think about why they are good at that. Then ask them whether they can apply that to another person or situation. This will let them know you noticed something that you appreciate about them, and enabled them to go deeper into that positive aspect about themselves. This will automatically increase their confidence and foster the same positive behavior.

Pick your words

Rather than beating around the bush, consider making a point about exactly what you want to get across. Also, ensure the words you use are not vague and will not be misconstrued. This gives way to misunderstandings and underlying issues that might fester over time and never get resolved. Pick words that are clear, encouraging, intentional, and positive. This will help your employees grow.

Make it a project

For yourself to be able to track your executives’ progress, to see how you can better mentor and coach them, make it a project. Keep note of every feedback session and how it went, regularly check in with them about the things you discussed during those sessions, send them books, videos, lectures, etc. that you think can help them. Your investment in them will also reassure them of your genuine care for them and will make them want to follow your advice without resistance or fear.

Read: Giving Effective Feedback to Your Team

Receiving an assessment from a leader can have a significant effect on executives. They are in a vulnerable situation in the feedback dynamic and they can either grow with and because of it, or it can negatively impact them. Assure them that, “There is no failure. Only feedback.”Robert Allen.


Q. What is the aim of giving feedback to your executives?
A. Feedback should teach, motivate, and push people forward to make them better professionals.

Q. Why is it important to be clear about the feedback you are giving?
A. Being vague will result in well-intentioned feedback being misconstrued and misunderstood. This will have the opposite result as desired and might fester underlying issues over time and never get resolved.

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