Leaders have a tremendous influence on their direct reports, and one of the most critical areas for leadership success is being able to give honest feedback: praise when it’s deserved and coaching in the moment. To achieve this throughout your organization, a leadership development curriculum needs to equip leaders with these essential skills.
In over three decades of providing training at Eagle’s Flight, we have observed that leadership development through experiential learning is ideal because participants practice coaching and feedback in a safe environment, with real people, and without the real-life consequences of their reality at work.
Why Feedback Is an Essential Skill for Leaders
Feedback helps others achieve their goals.
One key characteristic of a good leader is that they are able to reach organizational goals by motivating others. Giving constructive feedback helps individuals grow by learning how they can improve and by reinforcing the activities they are doing well. This ultimately helps them achieve both personal and organizational goals.
Feedback helps build trust.
Although it can initially be challenging, when an employee and supervisor become adept at giving and receiving feedback—it’s a two-way street—it builds a foundation of trust. When done well, the feedback process should not be anxiety-inducing for either party. It should be a mutually beneficial learning experience that helps individuals gain new insights that will help them improve performance.
Feedback increases employee engagement.
In companies where leadership knows how to give effective feedback, employees are more engaged. According to Gallup, “When employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them, they are 3.5x more likely to be engaged than other employees.” Additionally, “Employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.” A higher level of engagement is associated with better performance, lower turnover, and higher rates of employee satisfaction, all essential elements of staying competitive and attracting top talent.
Why Experiential Learning Is an Ideal Way to Teach Feedback Skills
For people who are not used to giving and receiving feedback, the interaction can be stressful and uncomfortable, even in a training environment. Fortunately, like any other type of competency or behavior, feedback skills can be taught, practiced, and refined until they become second nature. However, you can’t expect leaders to learn feedback skills on their own by reading management books. To become excellent at it, they must practice it.
Of course, practicing new feedback skills in the work environment is intimidating and potentially damaging if it’s not done well. This is why experiential learning is an ideal way to teach leaders how to give and receive feedback. Experiential learning takes participants out of the work environment and allows them to practice new skills in a safe space with no real-world consequences. By trying different approaches and immediately seeing the results of each, participants can learn what works, what does not, and why.
Well-designed experiential learning sessions close with a debrief, led by a skilled facilitator, that connects the concepts learned in training to real-life situations that participants face on a regular basis. The participant can then return to the workplace with the confidence to use their new feedback skills because they know what to expect.
Incorporate Experiential Learning into Leadership Development Programs
Leaders at every level can benefit from learning how to give and receive feedback, but it is especially important for emerging leaders to gain these skills through training. Experiential learning is a training method that allows leaders to test their new skills and become comfortable with them in a way that does not impact their employees. Seeing the positive results of giving feedback in a training environment and learning how to do it most effectively through practice empowers new leaders to use their new skills on the job. This leads to stronger employee-manager relationships, higher performing teams, and more engaged employees.
Although it won’t replace experiential learning, you can prime the pump with some relevant reading. We recommend The Leader’s Pocket Guide for Leading Yourself, Others, & the Organization. This handy reference covers a range of leadership topics, including how to give effective feedback.