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Over the last decade, I’ve conducted thousands of 360-degree feedback interviews with the colleagues of the leaders I coach. My goal with these sessions is to get a better sense of my clients’ strengths and weaknesses, but more often than not, the feedback isn’t particularly useful.

How do you give feedback that helps someone learn and improve? This strategic developmental feedback requires careful thought and insightful construction.  This kind of feedback is:

Big-picture focused. The most useful feedback answers this question: “For this leader to be maximally effective, what should they do more of and less of?”  It takes a strategic view of what the leader is doing effectively and less effectively today, and what they might continue or change to achieve the organization’s objectives in the future.

Organizationally aligned. Often, the feedback that people give me is based on the giver’s personal leadership beliefs or preferences, and yet the most useful feedback starts with an understanding of what the organization values. When a feedback giver says “She has a great sense of humor,” what they are usually saying is “Her sense of humor matches mine so I enjoy it. (And who cares if others don’t like sarcasm!)” Strategic developmental feedback is based on the organization’s leadership competency mode, a shared understanding of what effective leadership looks like, or even a comparison of the leader in question with another leader in the organization who is universally thought of as effective.

Behavioral and specific. Vague labels like “inspiring,” “great,” or “lacking executive presence,” are of little use without more clarity. A leader needs to know that what they are doing is creating an impression, which then informs your label. The key word here is doing. Useful feedback should focus on what a leader is actually accomplishing.

Factual, not interpretive. Too often feedback is described with adjectives that interpret the leader’s behavior: She is self-centered. He lacks confidence. Even if you believe a leader’s behavior stems from lack of confidence, that is just your interpretation and may or may not be accurate.

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