The feedback you need most (but nobody will tell you)

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

What’s the most unspoken and unexpected challenge leaders face in the workplace? 

Total lack of feedback in all the ways they wish they could receive it.

As you work your way up the ranks, you get comfortable with explicit feedback: “You’re doing it wrong,” for example, or, “Great job! You really hit the nail on the head there.” This explicit feedback likely had a direct relationship with your growth.

Now, in a leadership role, you need feedback more than ever before to continue growing and evolving, but the higher you rise through the ranks, the less explicit feedback you’ll receive. 

Aiming to get more explicit feedback isn’t the answer, because people who report to you or reside in lower levels of the org chart are likely to censor that feedback before sharing it in an effort to protect their jobs or ensure their own career trajectory. Stakeholders often cannot be bothered to provide feedback. The higher up you get the less and less feedback you get from your own leader, even if it is the board. 

The truth is that leaders receive feedback all the time, in every interaction with their superiors, peers, and subordinates. It’s just implicit.

Implicit feedback is the feedback your team members and stakeholders give you through tone of voice, body language, behavior, word choices, facial expressions, energy, and more. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t agree with you,” you may see body language that signals retreat or rejection. 

Although it sounds a lot like mind-reading, interpreting implicit feedback is easier than it sounds when you take time to refine the skill. In fact, it’s critical to your success as a leader.

As an example, a client I was working with shared constructive criticism with a direct report over Slack. On a Friday. At 5pm. 

I know. Hindsight is 20/20, right? 

His team member had made an offer to a client that the organization couldn’t deliver. In essence, he sent a quick message to say, Hey, it’s important that this doesn’t happen again. 

Almost immediately, he received multiple consecutive messages from her in rapid succession, 10 or 12 of them: why she made the decisions she made; what she’s done for the organization; what is she supposed to do now; how can she go back to the client… You get the picture.

Although his direct report didn’t share her feedback with him in an explicit way, she did share feedback, if you know what to look for: 

Multiple rapid-fire messages? Translation: Anxiety. Insecurity. Surprise. 

The feedback for him, the director in that situation: 

Consider the timing and avenue before providing feedback to this employee. She may appreciate face-to-face communication in a private setting. 

Consider the urgency of the feedback and delay to a time when discussion can continue and normal workday interaction can reassure her that all is well.

So there are two important takeaways.

One: as an executive, say farewell to any hopes you have of receiving explicit feedback. 

And two: you must better understand implicit feedback – what it is and how to interpret it – so you can continue to grow in your role.

Ready to begin the process of dissecting and interpreting the implicit feedback you’re receiving? Contact us to set up your complimentary discovery call today to take the first step. 

Published by

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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