Importance of feedback in leadership

Feedback is essential for growth and development. To keep your team feeling valued and supported regardless of their background or circumstances, it's important to know what you're doing right and where you could improve. Research by the Association for Psychological Science found that asking for straightforward feedback helps you make smarter decisions and adapt behaviour as needed. But, despite its importance, getting honest feedback about one's leadership style can be challenging, especially when it comes to inclusion. Leaders may find themselves in a situation where they claim to have an open-door policy, yet colleagues may not feel comfortable providing honest feedback especially when it comes to potentially having challenging conversations. So how can leaders bridge this gap and create an environment where feedback flows freely? The answer lies in fostering psychological safety and implementing processes such as 360 feedback.

What are the barriers to getting effective feedback?

The Myth of Open Doors:

‘My door is always open’. Many leaders use open-door policies, inviting colleagues to share their thoughts and concerns. However, the reality often paints a different picture. Despite the sentiment, employees may perceive barriers that prevent them from speaking up, notably when it comes to inclusive or non-inclusive behaviours. This means that leaders may not get the feedback they need to develop, and when they do it may not be the unfiltered, honest feedback they are seeking.

Fear of Punishment:

Employees may worry about the potential consequences of providing critical feedback, such as fear of confrontation or worrying that feedback may negatively impact their job security. This fear can prevent them from speaking up honestly.

Lack of Trust:

Trust is a key element for receiving feedback. If employees don't trust that their feedback will be anonymised where possible, kept confidential or taken seriously, they may be hesitant to share their true thoughts and opinions.

Power Dynamics:

Hierarchical organisations can create power imbalances that make it intimidating for employees to speak candidly to senior leaders.  These structures and cultural norms can cause groupthink, where individuals conform to the opinions and decisions of those in power to avoid conflict.

Defensive Leadership:

Leaders who are defensive or dismissive of feedback may inadvertently discourage employees from providing their honest input in the future. When leaders display these behaviours, this can cause a ripple effect and potentially create a culture across the organisation that views feedback negatively.

Unclear Feedback Processes:

If there are no clear processes in place for providing feedback, employees may not know how or when to share their thoughts with their leaders. If employees are unable to give feedback, then leaders may not learn how they can improve.

How can leaders create an environment where feedback is welcomed?

Foster Psychological Safety:

To create an environment where feedback is embraced and normalised, leaders must actively cultivate psychological safety within their teams and organisations. This involves more than just the language used; it requires tangible actions and behaviours that show a genuine commitment to listening, learning, and growing.

Lead by Example:

As a leader, your actions speak louder than words. Role model vulnerability by openly sharing your own challenges, mistakes, and areas for further development. By showing humility and a willingness to learn, you set the tone for others to do the same.

Openly Encourage Diverse Perspectives:

Actively seek out input from individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. Create opportunities for everyone to contribute to discussions and decision-making processes, ensuring that no voice goes unheard.

Be Open and Receptive:

Approach the feedback process with an open mind and a willingness to listen. Resist the temptation to become defensive or dismissive of critical feedback. This involves shifting your focus from creating your response to being curious about what they are saying and being understanding about what may be behind their perception.

Promote Constructive Feedback:

Foster a culture where feedback is viewed as a gift rather than a threat. Encourage colleagues to give both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism in a respectful and constructive way.

Acknowledge Feedback:

When colleagues do speak up, listen attentively and acknowledge their input. Take proactive steps to address any concerns or issues raised, showing that their feedback is valued and acted upon.

Celebrate Learning and Growth:

Embrace a growth mindset where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and improvement. Celebrate successes and failures alike, highlighting the lessons learned and the growth achieved along the way.

Know your colleagues:

Spend time getting to know your colleagues so you are better able to identify when they may have concerns before they come to you. By taking the initiative to reach out to them this shows that you are invested and open to getting their input they will be more likely to give feedback regularly.

Put processes in place:

For example, utilising School for CEOs Inclusive Leadership 360 to get quantifiable insight into how others perceive your leadership from an inclusion lens. Using this tool, leaders can use the data to benchmark and assess progress using 3 distinct elements of inclusion.

Conclusion: Embrace Feedback as a Catalyst for Growth

In conclusion, getting feedback about your leadership style is essential for personal and professional growth. By fostering psychological safety and implementing processes such as 360 feedback, leaders can create an environment where feedback flows freely, supporting continuous learning, improvement, and innovation. So rather than claiming to have open-door policies on paper, take concrete steps to cultivate a culture of openness, trust, and collaboration within your team and organisation. Your colleagues will thank you for it, and your leadership will thrive as a result.

Remember, leadership is not about having all the answers; it's about creating the conditions for others to feel valued and succeed.

Struggling to get open and honest feedback from your colleagues? Take a look at our pioneering inclusive leadership 360 tool. If you would like to find out more about the other services we offer, visit the ‘What We Do’ page or email


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Author Bio: Tafadzwa Maisva

Tafadzwa Maisva is an accomplished consultant, executive coach and researcher, with expertise in qualitative and quantitative research, particularly focusing on inclusion. Since joining the School, Tafadzwa co-facilitates the Reverse Mentoring programmes, having led research investigating Cultural Intelligence in leaders.