Guidance on giving feedback to senior leaders

Linking to my piece last Sunday about the CEO ‘minimal viable product’, this piece focuses on Element 3, Impactful Mentoring.

  1. Profit security
  2. Strategic sharpness
  3. Impactful mentoring
  4. Operational tightness
  5. Conversation routines (Exco meetings, breakaway, weekly check-ins, etc.)
  6.  Internal communication

At the outset, recognise that providing feedback to senior leaders will ask you to up your game – feedback to more senior people requires more nuance, better insights, and more subtle delivery.

If that feels daunting, rather try to see it as an opportunity to be really skillful and to improve your CEO craft. The payoff is significant: these leaders have massive leverage and high-quality mentoring will pay off for you in spades.

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Some pointers for quick digestion:

  • Don’t own the feedback process entirely: senior people are generally smart and engaged and the onus is primarily on them to observe, regulate and improve themselves. Set yourself up as an enabler, rather than the ‘final word’ on how they develop as professionals.
  • All senior people generally have one ‘battle’ that they face and will continue to face over the course of their career. It’s in our wiring – we all generally have one major theme running through our development and it’s important to identify that theme and keep working that territory. Examples might be: 
    • Getting caught in detail and losing the big picture
    • Anxiety getting the better of them
    • Hardness when it comes to people management
    • Tendency to be dictatorial and run the risk of losing their followship
    • The expectation of immediate gains and lacking the patience for inch-gain leadership over time 
  • Make these feedback ‘events’: curate them by choosing a good venue, create some anticipation, prepare for them, create a sense of ceremony, etc.
  • Insight beats volume: get to what matters most and essentialise your feedback.
  • Evidence is important in making the feedback real, practical, and grounded. The opposite is sharing broad, general opinions that might open you up to pushback and questioning.
  • Advancement matters a lot to senior leaders, who are generally ambitious and goal-orientated. Make sure to have as clear a picture as possible about what their future looks like (positional rotations, promotion, greater autonomy, etc.)

The goal here is to leave your senior leader in a better place, not to break them down. That’s stating the obvious, but I mention it as feedback conversations can go badly wrong and trust can be broken.

Your senior leaders really matter in getting your business to perform and feedback conversations are worthy places to pour in your passion, care, and wisdom.

If you find yourself in need of some guidance with Impactful Mentoring and the prospects it presents to your CEOship, please feel free to reach out to me.


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My weekly missive, CEO Sundays, is published at 5pm every Sunday evening. The writings cover CEO topics exclusively: how-to’s; thought starters; leadership insights; reflection opportunities; research.

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