Leadership Responsibilities: Mastering the Art of Giving Feedback

Marianne Slotboom
Mar 30, 2022

This article is about mastering one of the most important leadership responsibilities: providing your team with clear and actionable feedback to support them towards high performance.

Why is feedback an important leadership responsibility?

Let me start with this question: Would you ask your team to navigate a ship without giving directions? Probably not. You most certainly are aware that your team would need a clear indication towards their destination to be able to achieve it. Achieving their goals is not very different from this and to provide feedback is a way of providing them with a clear direction, keeping them on track and helping them perform better. .

People improve themselves in similar ways. They need feedback! Like athletes or sportspeople, they measure, observe, look at the results and find out what can be sustained and what can be improved to grow and get better results.

The ultimate goal of feedback is to improve individual people’s performance and by doing this, your team’s performance.

Mastering the skill of giving feedback means as well that you are enabling your team members to grow, personally and professionally. You can learn more about how to make your people grow in our article about motivational dialogs.

The DESC Tool for leadership responsibilities

One of the most important leadership responsibilities is to lead your team towards high-performance and give clear feedback along the way. The DESC feedback technique - which is an acronym of the words: Describe, Express, Suggest, Consequences - is a simple and powerful way to express to team members what you would like them to do more, less, or differently to enhance their performance and maximize their effectiveness. At the same time it is a good tool to give positive feedback and reinforce effective behavior.

Feedback's first goal is to come to a shared understanding of an issue or a situation. It is  a conversation.
You start with describing the situation, observable behavior, using facts, and you allow the other person to share their perspective on the issue.

The next step is to express how this behavior impacts you, the task or the team's performance. If the effect was a certain emotion that is important to mention,  you could name that as well.
For example, what is the effect of the behavior on the team dynamic, the time investment for the tasks, the effectiveness of the execution of the task at hand, the collaboration within the team.
Check if the other person understands this effect.

Next, suggest what you would like the person to do differently. People aren’t mind readers, so stating what you want makes it absolutely clear to the person. You can be direct and ask for a specific change.
In most cases it is better to use a more participative style and ask for a suggestion or idea from the team member on how to improve the situation.
In both cases: make sure you get to an agreement about the new behavior that works for both of you.

Finally, line out the positive consequences of their behavior changes. It’s natural that they’ll want to understand why you’re asking for a change to their behavior, and it’s important you can back it up by explaining how it will impact both you and them for the better.
In case it is needed: line out the negative consequences if this situation does not change.

The DESC steps can be a powerful technique to stimulate behavior change. Like feedforward, it focuses on the future, and while it refers to the past, it only does so to provide context.

Leadership responsibilities | Giving feedback with DESC tool
Clear-feedback-with-the-DESC-feedback technique

Follow up on your feedback

After the feedback, another part of your leadership responsibilities is to agree on when and how you will get back to the situation and observe the effect of the change. This way, you make it explicit that you are expecting a positive effect and it is already clear when it will be evaluated. Make sure your follow-up session is a conversation in which both can express their observations constructively. It might be that more support or perseverance is needed from your side.

More Leadership Responsibilities

When delivering feedback, if the person feels that you care about their feelings and aspirations, they are more likely to receive the feedback positively. It’s a good idea to write down and rehearse what you want to say before you deliver it. This will ensure that when you do deliver it, you will be clear and to the point, so the individual knows exactly what you are asking of them. Body language is important to support your ideas.

DESC is a really simple method that's easy to adopt. When delivering positive feedback, you tell the person what they did and why it was effective. For example, “I feel you answered the client’s question very succinctly, and I could see that they really valued you summarizing it and making it clear.”
Most leaders are under the impression that they give a lot of positive feedback, but the perception team members express is often that they would like to receive more could compliments. Another important aspect of your responsibilities as a leader: make sure you give enough recognition through positive feedback.

When delivering constructive feedback, you tell the individual what they did, but you make clear why it was ineffective. For instance, “I feel that you didn’t explain that third point as well as you could have, and I could see the client didn’t fully understand what you were saying.” In this instance, it’s also important to follow up with how they could improve for the future; in this case “Next time, why not ask them to confirm whether they’re happy with everything you’ve discussed so far?”
Constructive feedback, when not carefully delivered, can have a detrimental impact on an individual’s performance and emotional wellbeing.

Do you receive enough feedback?

How do YOU know how well you are doing? Do you get feedback from other people? Do you try to pick up clues? Interpret the behavior of people around you to become aware of how well you are doing?
If this is the case, it might be interesting to start asking for some feedback.

Some questions that might help:

  • Is there some advice you could give me as it comes to.....
  • Do you observe things I could do more effectively?
  • Do you have tips for me?

Receiving feedback is also an important part of your leadership responsibilities, you have to know where you could improve to be a better leader for your team and support them in the best possible way.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

More about the author

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