Give us self-confidence, not feedback!


Didier Marlier

November 24, 2016

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The Enablers Network considers “Feedback” as one of its core values. If you see us work, you will frequently see us gather after one of us was “on stage”, or skip the after dinner discussions as we provide feedback to the speakers and review our day.

Everyone knows about feedback, but I am surprised, each time we insert it in the design of our sessions, how much people appreciate it, as if it were their first time practicing it. It suggests to me that, as my ex-IMD Professor Chris Parker used to say, “knowledge is not behaviour”, or, we may know all models of feedback existing around us but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we use and live it.

Feedback transforms organizations because it transforms relationships between people:

  • It is critical for the building of an “intelligent organization”: Authors like Margaret Wheatley, who worked a lot on the themes of “organic organizations” claim that permanent feedback is one of the three critical factors to design organizations of the Future. In a feedback prone organization, intelligence flows more freely and faster
  • It enables the organization to seize opportunities and improve faster
  • It is fundamental in building relationships, respect and trust.

In the late 90’s, I remember a study that McKinsey had done in Australia. It was estimated that a young consultant was receiving an average of… 300 feedbacks per year, explaining the unequaled talent the firm had, in those days, to develop knowledge and competences in their young, talented people.

However, in July this year, after a highly successful program we ran in the US, I had noticed that some of my associates had solidly improved the level of their game, taken personal risks and led excellent conversations with their teams. Running our traditional evening review, I asked them what had been different this time, to make them play at that level.

“Instead of giving us feedback, Nick (my other senior partner on the program) and you ignited self-confidence in us. And that was totally different!” I was a bit in a shock… They continued: “Yes feedback is a gift. Yes it aims at challenging us to lift the level of our game… and when it comes from experienced seniors like some of you, it can also be intimidating and disabling. When one is on stage and sees you take notes at the back of the room, especially when we knew we did something wrong, you can imagine how destabilizing it is and how quickly it leads us to a downward spiral”. I was blaming myself. How could I have forgotten that, a few years ago after a “beauty contest” that four of us had attended and where I hadn’t been particularly brilliant, my three partners were keen to start a feedback/review round. I wasn’t happy about my performance and was at a difficult moment in my private life. In other terms I was not sufficiently strong and self-confident to accept and benefit from their feedback. I knew it was going to make things worse for me and that I would most probably be defensive.

I therefore declined giving or receiving feedback, which, I remember, caused a bit of a malaise for them and in me.

This brings me back to reflecting that, should we wish to create a highly performing culture in our organizations, by appropriately blending a challenging and supportive leadership style, starting by a supportive attitude will raise the level of self-confidence, trust and respect. Increasing then the challenging style, creating engagement, curiosity, creativity, innovation and ultimately better results, is probably a better way than bring a challenge electro-shock first (risking to create fear, politics and paralysis) followed by an enormous (but little credible) amount of support to compensate.

A good lesson for me. I hope it will be one for you as well.



    Being specialized in cultural differences, allow me to mention that it’s difficult to generalized. Hofstede’s findings shows that the relation between superior/employe (therefore the feedback’s type) depends on the local culture. One can not expect the same type of relationship in Mexico, Paris or Boston….
    OK – could you answer – let’s change the culture! But that become the priority then….

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Jean-Pierre,
      Thank you for contributing. Yes, I am aware of Hofstede’s “Power Distance” concept and use it frequently on this blog. And it does, indeed have an impact on the way you will provide feedback and build self confidence.
      What I am referring to here may also be influenced by personal preference: If you use the widely known MBTI, one may suggest that F (emotional) types may react better to the “encourage self-confidence” bit whereas T preferences (rational) may better function with feedback.
      But in the case, I had to deal with a Brazilian, a Franco-British and an Anglo-American, 2 T preferences and one F and their feedback was unanimous though: Build our self-confidence before you attempt to give us feedback…
      Have a good week-end, thank you for enriching this blog with your thoughts

  2. Anwar Jumabhoy

    Much like parenting, the development of people requires one to apply different practices. Feedback & boosting their self-confidence are two important ones. In my sessions I often get participants to re-frame their experiences and this allows them to recognize how well they have actually performed.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Anwar, for contributing here. I like your parenting metaphor. It seems that education psychologists suggest that two pillars are essential: Unconditional affection (where the “build self-confidence” could belong) and structure (where feedback could be well placed). I love as well you confidence building activity in your seminars. I do hope that 2017 brings us to work more together. Take care


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