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How to Encourage Candid Feedback

Some chief executives have purposefully or unwittingly created an insulating barrier in their organizations. They have done this by reinforcing what they see as personal loyalty while discouraging contrary views, questions, and candid feedback.

If surrounded by yes-men or yes-women, senior leaders can easily find themselves in a vulnerable position because they need both good and bad news to travel fast to them. This feedback is necessary to adjust strategy, execution, and especially their management practices. Here are three tips for ensuring that you’re getting candid feedback:

Find trusted advisers. Establish at least two trusted advisers who will give you honest and timely feedback on what you’re thinking, the soundness of your approach, and how your behavior and decisions are affecting the business and work culture. These advisers need to have your best interest at heart—and nothing to gain by your missteps. They can be colleagues, external mentors, and/or professional coaches.

Reinforce candid feedback. Reinforce the behavior of providing direct and honest feedback, even if you don’t like what you hear. Acknowledge that you appreciate and will continue to welcome candid feedback. This does not mean that you have to agree with the feedback, but if the feedback never comes to you, you won’t be in a position to make that judgment.

Find the value in every message There is some degree of truth in most opinions, so listen for at least one meaningful take-away rather than being quick to dismiss an opinion. If you can’t extract anything of value from what was said, sleep on it. If nothing else, find value in the person’s willingness to share what he or she was thinking.

Spencer is Chief Operating Officer of management consultancy Aubrey Daniels International. He can be reached at

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