We need more of it, and we aren’t good at it,” the new executive remarked in a recent BOLD leadership session. “We personalize, experience it as an assault, attack or at least, an insult. I feel like I can’t give it when my intention (and job) is to support, develop and grow everyone around me on behalf of the enterprise. And, I wonder at best (doubt at worst) if I am getting what I need to be successful, too.” 

What is this executive discussing? 


The dirty word in corporate America that everyone says they want yet rarely get. Research shows the more senior leaders are, the less feedback they receive, and women are 20% less likely than men to receive difficult feedback, according to a recent survey from McKinsey and Company.

What is Feedback?

Literally defined, the term feedback originated by referring to the noise that occurs when electronic output and input signals get crossed, as with musicians. Over time, it evolved to various definitions below.

  • “Transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source” 
  • “Critical assessment on information produced”
  • “Information about results or reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”

Notice that each reflects a different mindset about feedback – from dreaded to neutral to helpful – as an insight into what it means to you. Some include words such as critical or corrective – and we wonder why leaders avoid feedback! 

Our team defines feedback as: 

The generous gift someone provides by stepping out of THEIR comfort zone
to have YOUR back, which allows you to uncover blind spots and discover
what you can start, stop or continue in order to evolve and grow

Pick or create a definition of feedback that allows you to be a courageous leader, at stake for others, and a role model in depersonalizing and listening deeply in order to have the enterprise and all members be successful

A Few Facts That Might Surprise You

In our BOLD survey, 69% of respondents say feedback is very important to development and advancement (it is rated first, over mentoring and other supports). Surprisingly, as many as 63% say they have received consistent, valuable, clear and actionable feedback. Remember, feedback is both constructive and positive. 

Here are some stats from other studies:

  • 78% of employees said recognition creates motivation 
  • 65% of employees say they want more feedback
  • 58% of managers feel they give enough feedback (rarely corroborated by directs)
  • 57% of respondents stated that they prefer corrective (negative/constructive) feedback, while 43% stated that they prefer praise or recognition in this study.
  • 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week
  • 14.9% lower turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback

Why We Avoid It

Neuroscience reminds us that feedback is a threat that causes physiological, emotional and cognitive responses. Those receiving (and often those giving) feedback can experience physical changes ranging from increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, physical pain, and a wide range of emotions including fear, anxiety, anger and aggression. 

No wonder leaders want to run the other way! Engaging in real talk requires you to step out of YOUR comfort zone and forget about your fear of getting it wrong, hurting feelings, damaging the relationship or making things worse. 

Leaders who learn this in BOLD leadership for women and/or team alignment work realize: 

Feedback builds trust and ultimately, high performance organizations.

While there is a chance of making things worse, it rarely happens, and data suggests most people (at least high performers) want feedback to help them advance and grow. In fact, those who do NOT receive regular feedback usually have a poor perception of their leadership and are less engaged. 

BOLD leaders consistently, generously and openly
offer, seek and receive feedback.

How You Can Break the Trend

  • CLARIFY your personal starting point and intention. Notice your mindset about having real conversations. There is usually one of two ways people approach feedback: they’re afraid of hurting the relationship and don’t give it OR they feel anxious and give it anyway. Identify your intention – how much do you want to invest in this relationship? Starting here is the most important place to create a breakthrough
  • CHECK the environment for how “safe” it is for real talk and real listening. People won’t give you feedback if they don’t feel it is safe. You might start by asking people how they feel about feedback, if they’re getting enough, and what they want from you. To increase the likelihood of others providing feedback, ask for it yourself. Then reward their candor with your listening, curiosity and vulnerability. When you do this, you are “training” others to provide you with feedback and to trust you when you give it. 
  • CONTRACT with people around you to give and get feedback so everyone can improve. Start the conversation about your why. It is critical people understand your intention. The executive above came from a company where feedback was consistent and direct. His new company has an entirely different culture, and he needed to understand the current culture before jumping in with “helpful feedback.” He started by setting the table with new stakeholders to let them know he cares about people, appreciates feedback, and wants to help everyone grow. 

It also helps to provide feedback skillfully, which we will cover in a future post. 

Ask Yourself

  • What is my starting mindset about feedback? What do I need to shift in order to create a positive mindset about feedback?
  • How safe is my environment for people to give / receive feedback? What part have I played in having it be feedback-rich (or feedback-light)? 
  • What is one thing I can do to create an environment where feedback is seen as a net positive?

Please reach out and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.

Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.

Remember to find resources to inspire you here.

Yours in practice,


If you are interested in exploring how to unlock the potential of yourself, your team or the women in your organization, contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.