I recognize that this may be a controversial statement. I was always taught that in order to get good performance, actually great performance, feedback is necessary. In order to improve, you had to get feedback about what you may have done wrong or what you could have done better, in order to elicit the best performance.
Certainly, that's one way to do it. But then I learned that the best feedback was none at all. In fact, the best feedback was when I was told I was doing something right. That I was doing what was expected or that I hit the mark - versus when I didn't.
I'll never forget an experience I had with the person who holds the title of "best boss" I've ever had. I had a presentation that I had spent a week prepping for. It was my first big "thing" as a senior leader. I was nervous. I was worried. I practiced, A LOT. It came and went and surely there was going to be some sort of feedback from my boss (and a new one at that) on how to improve.
I was surprised by the reaction from my new boss. Instead of giving me feedback on what I did "wrong" she proceeded to acknowledge the strengths of my presentation. She talked about her own personal reaction to my presentation; how it made her feel and the behaviors I demonstrated that left her with that reaction.
This was the most profound experience of my professional career. I learned a few things:
Feedback is warranted when there is a real mistake and an objective path to correction. I learned in most business situations, there aren't many mistakes (especially with an objective or absolute way to correct) that are egregious. Most situations are learning moments. This presentation was certainly that. No one was going to die. Nothing big was at stake. The issue is many people treat most situations as if something went wrong or needs to be corrected, versus the learning lesson that they are.
One might think that my boss was just the softy type only focused on praise or afraid to give feedback. To be honest, I thought that was the case at first. But as our relationship grew, I grew. And it was through this growth that I realized that her approach of recognizing the strength of my own behaviors was her way of giving "feedback." It helped me focus on the things that were working well and making small tweaks to drive excellent performance. It changed my mindset as a leader about how unnecessary feedback can be in most cases. I actually learned how to be a coach.
When giving feedback, many can often lead with a statement of fact such as, "You lacked X, Y, or Z." When you state it that way, it is almost as if you're the authority on said topic you're giving feedback on. Here's the brass tax - No one is a authority on anything, usually. Rather, when you focus on the reaction or sharing best practices, it promotes learning. My boss helped me learn and grow in a positive and productive way.
This experience changed everything for me as a leader. I always equated high performance to improving the things not going well. As a young leader, I focused on identifying "underperformance" and trying to coach how to correct it; as if it was a mistake with a fix-it button. Because of this boss, I flipped my approach and did the opposite. When I saw good stuff, I prioritized recognizing it by identifying the behaviors and how those behaviors really worked.
Imagine a world where bosses spent more time calling out your good stuff and harnessing that, versus the mistakes you made (that usually aren't mistakes by the way)?
Let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you below in our comments!