Getting Tough Constructive Feedback

How do you rate at getting honest opinions about your performance as a leader? Learn how to get the truth about your performance, and how you need to improve.

This is kind of counterintuitive because lots of people truly want to hear praise in what they’re doing well, but if you talk to high performers – the highest performers – they actually want tough feedback to help them improve.

Unfortunately, their leaders sometimes are uncomfortable giving that feedback, which essentially takes away the opportunities they need to grow and get better.

“I prefer an ugly truth to a pretty lie.” – Shakira

And there are many people in the world that would rather have you just tell them pretty lies. I’ve just found for high performing leaders, that’s not the case. Of course, people want to know what they’re doing well, but high performers are more interested in how they can improve. And I’m sure that’s the case for you.

You know you really need to work on getting constructive feedback if:

  • You wonder how effective you are as a leader – you actually don’t know, you’re unsure.
  • You can’t name four people who regularly give you uncomfortable but valuable feedback. These people are invaluable.
  • You haven’t sought opinions on your performance through something formal, like a 360 review in the past two years.
  • You wonder what your board, or reports, really thinks of you.
  • You haven’t received uncomfortable feedback from somebody that works with you, or you work for, in the past six months.

Key point: Tough constructive feedback gives us the data and insights to help us to grow and get better; and often the people around us don’t want to tell us what we need to know, because they’re trying to be nice. Unfortunately, they’re holding us back.

In the chapter, we talk about lots of different things – including 360’s and the right way to do them. I believe it’s a team event, and there are other techniques you can use to get excellent feedback to help you grow.

One of my favorite tools, and one of the simplest you can use, is called the After Action Review, or Project Review. This is where you sit down with a team at the end of any given project, and just talk about what went well, what didn’t, and how you will improve next time.

And amazingly, because the feedback is not about a person – it’s about a process or a project – you can see where the leaders involved in the project could be more effective, and it gives you tons of ideas of how to improve in a very nonjudgmental way.

So here are three specific questions that you ask at the end of a project. Part of the process is to ask your team to think about these questions, come prepared to the meeting, and then you discuss;

  1. What went well?
  2. What did not go well?
  3. What did you learn?

And then list three things you do differently next time to improve the process and the outcome of the project.

It’s a very simple tool. And because it’s done in an open, non-judgmental way, it’s easy for everyone to put the truth on the table without formal mechanisms. And as a leader, all you have to do is sit back, listen, and wonder how you could prevent or better manage these situations.

If this is something that you think you need to do, I’d recommend that you make it one of your goals for the Quarter. And if you don’t have the tools yet, you can download the Quarterly Planner and other resources here.


Getting great feedback, although awkward, is the fuel we need to get stronger and grow. You just need to make sure you’re getting enough of it.

And don’t worry: the people around you, whether at work or in your life, have ideas about how you could be a more effective person. It’s just your job to make sure you ask for the feedback.