What are the best practices in giving difficult feedback to a leader?

Best practices in giving difficult feedback to a leader involve a thoughtful and intentional approach that takes into account the psychological and emotional impact of the feedback. Here are key practices derived from the provided excerpts:

  1. Assess Your Motivations: Reflect on why you are motivated to provide the feedback. Consider whether your desire for the leader to change is influenced by a need for control or a preference for your own working style. Understand that diversity in working styles is necessary for high performance in a complex world ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  2. Supportive Confrontation: Use the model of "supportive confrontation," which includes:

    • Sharing the effect of the leader's behavior on you.
    • Explaining how their behavior is not meeting their apparent goals or intentions.
    • Discussing the broader costs of their behavior to themselves.
    • Considering your own role in the problem ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).
  3. Be Specific and Timely: Provide feedback that is specific about the behavior and the emotions it triggers. Choose the right moment for the conversation, allowing emotions to settle but not delaying so long that details are forgotten ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  4. Expand Emotional Vocabulary: Be precise in describing your emotional response to the leader's behavior. Use nuanced feeling-words and avoid attributions about the leader's motives ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  5. Empathy Without Agreement: Understand the leader's perspective and emotions without necessarily endorsing them. Empathy is crucial, but it does not imply agreement or obligation ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  6. Create Psychological Safety: Foster a safe environment by managing the SCARF elements (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) to minimize the leader's threat response. This involves being careful not to diminish their status, providing certainty about the feedback, respecting their autonomy, establishing relatedness, and being fair in your approach ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  7. Build the Relationship: Invest in the relationship over time to earn the right to offer critical feedback. Show that you care about the leader's feelings and perspectives ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  8. Make Feedback a Dialogue: Engage in an ongoing dialogue rather than treating feedback as a one-time event. Consistent follow-up and normalization of feedback can help integrate it into the organizational culture ([How to Deliver Critical Feedback][9]).

  9. Reframe the Experience: Help the leader reframe their understanding of the feedback using cognitive reappraisal techniques. This can help reduce their stress and manage negative emotions ([Why Some Feedback Hurts (and What To Do About It)][4]).

  10. Digest, Acknowledge, and Respond: When dealing with feedback, leaders should digest the feedback thoroughly, acknowledge it by discussing it openly with stakeholders, and respond to it by indicating what changes will be made or not made ([Your 360 Report Is Ready][4]).

In summary, delivering difficult feedback to a leader effectively requires a combination of self-reflection, careful communication, empathy, and a commitment to building a trusting relationship that can withstand the challenges of critical feedback.