Is Positive Feedback Effective, If So Why Do Leaders Avoid It?

Zenger/Folkman, leadership consultants, found that nearly 8,000 managers (or 44%) reported they “found it stressful” to give negative feedback. Z.F. also found that an entire fifth avoids it entirely. But perhaps most shocking, 40% said they never gave any positive feedback. The study concluded that a leader’s willingness to give positive feedback was the top indicator of whether their subordinates consider them effective and honest communicators.

Some research has indicated that giving positive feedback helps subordinates feel like they are learning and growing which leads to increased confidence and competence.

A Gallup survey concluded that managers who communicated their strengths to their employees found employees far more engaged in their work.

Z.F. indicated their studies found reasons for avoiding positive feedback include it being thought of as “un-macho” and a sign of weakness in male dominated industries, while others reported they feared it as being perceived as “blowing smoke”. Others simply may want to avoid familiarity with people that work for them and who they may have to fire or feel they are avoiding the roll of “judge”.

Positive feedback and constructive criticism are two leadership tools that are certainly worth the so-called risks, which are often only perceived as real risks when none exists.

Insubordination: How Do Leaders Handle It?

Most organizations and teams are not pure democracies, in the end there is someone who is in charge. More often than we like to think this person in charge is asked to discipline a peer in cases of insubordination. Though we don’t like to think about it, insubordination does happen. Whether it is just the nature of a particular team member’s personality or someone just having a moment of rebellion how does a leader deal with insubordination adult to adult?

First and foremost having a standard in place with dealing with general and/or specific types of insubordination is key. In the corporate world this often comes in the form of an employee handbook—a document like this can be invaluable even for a very small business, that may be run more casually. It is far easier to have rules in place then to try to enforce something without precedent.

Some leaders, managers and bosses will accommodate successful team members who have rebellious personalities if they are getting the job done and fundamentally respect the leader, other team members and the organization. However, leaders should know that some team members may be annoyed or resentful by the accommodation style and leaders who use this style may loose their credibility with other team members if they are too loosey-goosey.

At the other end of the spectrum there is a strict leadership style in which decorum is of the upmost importance to the leader—sometimes to the point where any questioning of the leader is considered insubordination. Team members typically know exactly where the line is when this style is employed, however leaders will loose out on honest, critical feedback and may foster an atmosphere of fear and low morale.

While both these extreme styles have potential benefits and drawbacks, staying consistent is important. Inconsistent treatment of insubordination will inevitably lead to chaos, low morale and loss of respect. Playing favorites or allowing something on Tuesday, but then not on Thursday is a quick way to lay waste to any respect or credibility a leader as earned from her team.

Some believe the best way to handle insubordination, adult to adult, in a leader-to-team-member relationship is through immediate constructive criticism. Address the behavior politely, but firmly. Be as objective as possible about the transgression. While for many this will feel like the most uncomfortable and difficult option in the short term, in the long term this style may reap the most healthy team environment.