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How to build an effective feedback system in leadership

Leaders need a communication path between them and their associates to get honest and productive feedback. Communicating openly and frequently is necessary for workgroups and teams to function correctly. Feedback is an important knowledge acquisition mechanism for leaders to be successful in their roles. Without knowledge, most leaders cannot make informed decisions. The consequence of uninformed decisions is that it leads to a higher rate of failure, which can have a detrimental impact on the organization’s business.

In most organizations, it is standard practice that managers receive feedback from superiors as a means for performance review. However, it is rare and unusual for managers to receive feedback from subordinates regularly. When a manager requests upward feedback, it may be suspect as to motive and even viewed as in conflict with subordinate job roles. Although leadership development programs provide an institutional mechanism for collecting information from subordinates that managers might be reluctant to ask for or not otherwise receive. An example is the 360 Degree Feedback System, in which employees receive confidential, anonymous feedback from the people who work around them, which includes peers and direct reports.

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In terms of feedback, the leader’s primary role will be to provide it to others, but leaders also need to be open and ready to be receiving feedback if they want to create a communication culture truly. The reality is that a leader’s associates may never feel comfortable giving feedback, and that is why leaders need to be courageous enough to ask for it. It is important to know that encouraging feedback helps team members speak up and voice their opinion about your leadership style. It allows them to convey what works for them and what does not work under your leadership. While it is up to you to implement the feedback, you receive in ways that show your people that you are listening, and you are there for them. Leaders must be reminded that leadership is not about you; it is about making the organization run as smoothly and productively as possible. To do this effectively, every leader must build and maintain a psychologically safe environment for receiving feedback.

At an interpersonal level, sharing feedback is always very risky and threatening. Leaders need to show their associates that being honest will not be met with negative repercussions. By so doing, a leader increases the likelihood of the associates taking the risk without any fear or reservation. You can ask for feedback by being curious, rewarding candor, and showing vulnerability. Start by having the right mindset and believe there is always something helpful to learn from your associates. You demonstrate this by asking your associates open-ended questions that you do not have all the answers to the issues confronting you and the organization. When leaders listen to and genuinely explore their associate’s different, and possibly risky, perspectives, you reward their candour even if you disagree with them. Acknowledging your weaknesses or mistakes along the way are great ways to be open and vulnerable.

Sometimes, leaders are very resistant to other people’s negative opinions, ignoring other people’s suggestions and opinions, and sometimes being stubborn and self-conscious. This will cause tension in human relationships and make the organization or department information feedback inefficient. This attribute is what characterizes narcissistic leaders. Thus, to some extent, narcissistic leadership suppresses the feedback behaviour of employees in the organization. Sadly, narcissistic leaders are excessively self-focused, disregarding others, and sometimes even show hostile behaviour towards their employees. Hence, employees have little or no trust in such leaders. As a result, employees feel that leaders are not self-aware, and leaders don’t pay attention even if they give feedback. For their sanity and the protection of their self-esteem, employees will eventually choose feedback avoidance behaviours.

Research has shown that leaders rarely seek feedback in cultures with high power distance, and even the subordinates take evasive actions against their leaders. Studies assume that this phenomenon is that leaders suppress subordinates with a vague sense of power, which increases feedback avoidance behaviours.

Usually, associates or employees are full of respect for those in management roles, and the authority of leaders creates tremendous pressure on subordinates. The high-power distance culture also emphasizes “loyalty, filial piety, obedience,” making subordinates cautious and avoiding offensive superiors as much as possible. When narcissistic leaders show self-focus and disregard for employees, employees are not valued and have a lower sense of power. To avoid this psychological pressure, they will choose as many evasive actions as possible.

Also, research on mutual trust mechanisms between supervisors and subordinates shows that supervisors’ trust can increase autonomy and improve subordinates’ sense of power. When a sense of power increases, subordinates will have the courage to take on more responsibilities and risks, engage in challenging work and make more feedback-seeking behaviour. Thus, in high power distance culture, leaders have less staff trust while demonstrating authority, which leads to a lower sense of employees’ power at work. To avoid taking on more responsibilities and risks, employees will choose more feedback avoidance behaviours. Therefore, a sense of power will mediate the positive effect of leadership on feedback avoidance behaviours.

Feedback is a powerful tool that offers excellent results and creates a healthy and productive organizational culture. Hence, there are no good reasons to avoid creating a communication culture and feedback within your organization. More importantly, it costs the leader and the organization nothing. So, leaders do not need to overhaul policies and procedures; they do not need to consider large restructuring initiatives. Instead, it is best if you talked to your people on a consistent, continuous basis.

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