Jim Kouzes: Feedback, Learning, Performance, Improvement

Part 2 of 4

About Our Guest: Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership at Santa Clara University and coauthor with Barry Posner of the internationally award-winning and bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge, with more than 2 million copies sold. Jim and Barry have co-authored more than 30 other books, including The Truth About Leadership, Credibility, Encouraging the Heart, and A Leader’s Legacy. The Wall Street Journal named Jim as one of the ten best executive educators in the U.S., and in 2010 he was presented the Thought Leader Award by the Instructional Systems Association and in 2010 through 2012 recognized as one of HR Magazine’s Top 20 Most Influential International Thinkers.     – Doctor Duncan

To help people clarify their strengths and identify opportunities for improvement, we use 360-degree feedback in our leadership training and coaching. What advice do you have for people who resist participating in such a feedback process?

The truth is that the best leaders are the best learners. 

We find in our research that higher performing leaders more frequently engage in learning activities than do lower performing leaders.Jim Kouzes

Feedback is at the center of any learning process. Without feedback there is no learning. Thoughtfully studying feedback on your performance is the only way for you to know whether you’re getting close to your goal and whether you’re executing properly. Researchers consistently point out that the development of expertise or mastery requires one to receive constructive, even critical, feedback.

People need to know if they’re making progress toward the goal or simply marking time. People’s motivation to perform a task increases only when they have a challenging goal and receive feedback on their progress. Goals without feedback, or feedback without goals, have little effect on people’s willingness to put extra effort (or motivation) into the task. Just announcing that the idea is to reach the summit is not enough to get people to put forth more effort. They need information on whether they’re still climbing in the right direction, making progress toward the top, or sliding downhill.

With clear goals and detailed feedback, people can become self-correcting and can more easily understand their place in the big picture.

So feedback directly influences the amount of effort a person invests in self-improvement?

Absolutely. For example, consider what happens to your self-confidence without feedback. In a study, people were told that their efforts would be compared with how well hundreds of others had done on the same task. They received praise, criticism, or no feedback on their performance. Those who heard nothing about how well they did suffered as great a blow to their self-confidence as those who were criticized. Only those who received positive feedback improved.

However, our studies on exemplary leadership consistently show that the statement receiving the lowest rating, both from leaders as well as their constituents, is “Asks for feedback on how his/her actions affect other people’s performance.” In other words, the behavior that leaders and their constituents consider to be the weakest is the behavior that most enables leaders to know how they’re doing! You can’t learn very much if you’re unwilling to find out more about the impact of your behavior on the performance of those around you. It’s your responsibility as a leader to keep asking others, “How am I doing?” If you don’t ask, they’re not likely to tell you.

What can be done to create a “feedback-friendly” environment, and what are the characteristics of helpful feedback?

It’s not always easy to get feedback. It’s not generally asked for, and most people aren’t used to providing it. Skills are required to do both. You can increase the likelihood that people will accept honest feedback from you if you make it easier for people to give honest feedback to you.

To be most effective, good feedback needs to be specific, not general; focused on behavior, not on the individual (personality); solicited rather than imposed; timely rather than delayed; and descriptive rather than evaluative. You have to be sincere in your desire to improve yourself, and you have to demonstrate that you are open to knowing how others see you.

Coming up:

Part 3: Why You Should Hone Your Storytelling Skills
Part 4: Why Leadership Skills Are Vital for Entrepreneurs

Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan

Rodger Dean Duncan

Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP and a regular contributor to Forbes and Fast Company magazines. He is widely known for his expertise in the strategic management of change, for organizations and for individuals. In 1972 he founded Duncan Worldwide to train and develop leaders. His clients have included some of the top companies in the world, as well as cabinet officers in two White House administrations.
Rodger Dean Duncan

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