7 Rules for Giving Feedback to the Boss and Surviving to Tell About It

Few things in organizational life are more dangerous than speaking truth to power. But isolated leaders become arrogant, indulgent, and authoritarian.

Incompetent leaders count on reluctance to maintain their position and power.

As long as you don’t bring up inconsistencies, advocate for contrarian ideas, or provide tough feedback, positional leaders thrive.

“Going through channels,” creates protective cocoons that shield leaders from the real world. What happens when your boss sees you talking to her boss, for example?

Reluctance to speak the truth protects incompetence.

7 rules for giving feedback to the boss:

#1. Pet the tiger.

It doesn’t end well when you poke the tiger with a sharp stick. Respect, appreciation, honor, and alignment are tiger-petting strategies that serve everyone well.

#2. Bring heart.

Who you are speaks louder than what you say.

Don’t brag about being a straight shooter until you display a tender heart. A bully is a straight shooter who stands aloof.

Before you shoot straight ask:

  1. How have I shown respect to the recipient of my straight shooting?
  2. What have I done to support the person I plan to speak with? (Note “with” not “at”.)

Arrogance invites resistance. Heart lowers barriers.

#3. Be known for rowing-with, not sideways or against.

An arrogant self-serving employee hasn’t earned the right to be heard.

#4. Speak for yourself, not others.

Never say, “Everyone thinks…,” when giving feedback. Own it. “I think.” Or, “I notice.”

#5. ALWAYS seek the best interest of others.

Never place personal interest ahead of your boss or team. What’s good for the team IS good for you.

If your feedback is just about making YOUR life better, keep it to yourself.

#6. Understand, embrace, and model organizational vision, mission, and values.

#7. Row-with when input is rejected or modified.

What you do – when you don’t get what you want – tells everyone who you are.

What suggestions do you have for giving constructive feedback to the boss?

Bonus material:

How to Give Constructive Feedback to a Toxic Boss (Entrepreneur)

Go Ahead, Give Your Boss a Piece of Your Mind… (Fast Company)

How to Give Your Boss Feedback (HBR)