When I first heard the phrase ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions’, I thought it was such a cliché and throwaway line, that I ignored it, thinking it wasn’t and couldn’t be true. However, over time, I have come to realise that it is in fact so true – great leaders are in fact feedback seeking machines, and that is why they are great. They understand that in order for them to continue to perform at a high level, they need to consistently seek and receive feedback, otherwise they stagnate, get stale, and actually see their performance drop. And high performance is a non-negotiable for great leaders. Not only do these leaders actively seek feedback from those they trust and respect, they also are very forthcoming on their preparedness and ability to provide feedback as well.
This is something that is critical in leadership, in particular, sales leadership. There are multiple opportunities every single day for a sales leader to provide constructive and meaningful feedback, and how they do this will often determine how well engaged their sales executives and team is.
This played out in a recent leadership workshop I was facilitating. On the subject of feedback, one of the leaders shared an example that quite frankly, disappointed me and only reinforced the belief that great leaders seek regular opportunities to provide feedback. This particular leader was sharing an example where their senior leader had built a habit of regularly providing feedback, the only difference being that this type of feedback was more ‘constructive criticism’, which is anything but feedback. The regular feedback was always negative, with the senior leader pointing out all the things that were not working, where the shortfalls were, and what needed to be done to fix it. As the leader pointed out in the workshop, ‘we are at the point now where no feedback is good feedback’, and this is how the culture had been allowed to develop. How disappointing – despite this team implementing many great and positive initiatives which had delivered a positive impact, the senior leader chose to ignore them, instead maintaining his focus on what was wrong. Not an environment that encourages or breeds champions.
So this lead to a great group discussion on why feedback is actually the breakfast of champions and how this team could commence providing feedback themselves to change the environment. Here is a summary of the discussion :
- There is no such thing as ‘constructive criticism’ – there is only criticism. The old adage of providing the ‘feedback sandwich’ has lost its effect, especially when many leaders use the word ‘but’ in their feedback. As we know, if you start feedback with ‘You have done this well, but…..’, every word prior to the word ‘but’ is discarded, and the real feedback comes after it. If you as a sales leader, find yourself using the language ‘constructive criticism’ in your feedback conversations, please stop immediately. Instead, say something like ‘What I’ve noticed is xyz, and perhaps if you change this or that, you may get a different result….’. All of a sudden, this feedback is more constructive and it is something that can be implemented immediately.
- Seek opportunities to provide positive and affirmative feedback. Please don’t let the opportunity ‘slide through to the keeper’. You recognise that your team will be made up of different behavioural and personality styles, and some of the people in your team will thrive on regular positive reinforcement that they are doing well, or that they are on the right track. This is critical to you maintaining a strong culture. And understand, that sometimes all that is required is a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’. Make this count.
- Focus on providing feedback on the spot, in the moment. As soon as you say to yourself ‘I’ll provide some feedback tomorrow or next week’, all of a sudden, the impact will be lost or severely diminished, because it will lose context over time. Now I understand that if you are on a sales call with your sales executive, it is not appropriate to provide feedback immediately in front of the customer. However, immediately following the call, this is the time to provide the feedback. Do it when the context and content is still fresh – it will have a bigger impact.
- Ensure that you always ask permission in order to provide feedback. This is not only professional and common courtesy, it also establishes a foundation to be able to engage in a conversation. And always ensure that when providing feedback, focus on the exchange being a 2 way conversation, and not 1 way. Make sure that you ask good, open questions and listen actively to the response. There will be learnings in the conversation for both you and your sales executive.
- Maintain a level of objectivity. Feedback is not about making it personal – it is about providing insights and perspectives on the behaviour that was demonstrated. If you make it personal, more often than not, the sales executive will put up the defensive mechanism and justify themselves. You want the feedback to be so objective that the sales executive thanks you for it. And always make sure that within the feedback there is a stretch or a task for the sales executive to take on and complete, including a time deadline commitment. This will promote constant improvement.
- When having the feedback conversation, ensure that you ask questions to seek feedback from your sales executive. Remember, your responsibility as a sales leader is to show the way, to constantly seek opportunities to improve, and feedback is one of the best ways to do this. You will also set a very strong example and establish a great environment where feedback is the rule, rather than the exception. And please make sure that you commit to implementing the feedback.
It was a fascinating conversation with these leaders, and at the end of the session, they each had a much clearer perspective on the importance of feedback, as well as their responsibility to not only provide regular feedback, but also seek it regularly as well. My hope is that the group becomes uncompromising in their pursuit of leadership excellence and they become feedback seeking machines, because feedback really is the breakfast of champions!!
To your continued sales leadership success.
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Darren is a Sales Leadership and Sales Performance Coach, Facilitator & Speaker. He is an experienced and committed coach with a background of sales leadership success in large organisations. He applies a genuine focus to coaching and developing high performing sales leaders who are looking to unleash the potential of themselves and their teams.