Leader talk that pays off

Anders Dysvik

Leaders are often better at criticising their employees rather than giving them praise and recognition. Here are four tips on how you can provide effective feedback.

OPINION: Anders Dysvik on leadership communication

Leaders must have the ability to communicate with their employees so that they experience a commitment to their tasks, as well as a sense of pride and affiliation to the organisation they work for. That is not something everyone is equally skilled at.

Regularly I meet former students who have entered the workforce. Some say their employer and colleagues acknowledge them on a daily basis. This happens in the form of praise and recognition when they have performed well, or that they receive the necessary guidance to develop further when it is required.

Sadly, not all employees are as fortunate with their employers. There are leaders who clearly lets you know when something is not working. If they say nothing at all, everything is okay. In other words, many employees feel that they receive little or no praise and recognition for good work. On the other hand, they receive criticism and disapproving comments whenever something is wrong.

“I’ll let you know if there’s anything else”

As a leader, how good are you at providing feedback when tasks are performed well? How often do you as an employee hear that you are doing a good job?

A regular day for a leader is characterised by a tsunami of tasks that are expected to be completed swiftly. The time that should have been spent on leadership, ends up being spent in meetings, on reports and other pressing issues.

The communication with employees is reduced to the practice of “I’ll let you know if there’s anything else”. Do leaders choose the same communication strategy when talking with their children or spouse?

Probably not. Thus, there is no reason to continue doing the same at work.

What makes employees perform at their best?

The motives behind feeling that a job is engaging, meaningful and interesting, are actually the same motives that create positive development patterns in children and youth, school results, as well as improvements in effort and performance over time by athletes.

  • The most basic psychological need of employees is the need for autonomy, taking independent decisions within clearly defined parameters and making judgements based on their own experience of how tasks are most effectively completed. Feedback that encourages initiative and independence can solidify the sense of autonomy.
  • The second need employees have is the desire to experience mastery and feeling competent when they perform their current task, but also daring to explore new and improved ways to perform their jobs. Feedback that is concrete in regards to what is done well and suggestions relating to things that can be improved in the future, can solidify the mastery experience and the future belief in mastering tasks.
  • The third need is linked to social belonging through good relationships with their immediate superiors and other colleagues. This need is considered an important foundation and almost a prerequisite for any feedback being absorbed and accepted by the recipient. Research shows that employees can react negatively to praise from their leader in cases where they themselves view the quality of the relation as bad or absent.

Four tips for leaders

Research on leadership shows that the relationship between a leader and their employee can never become too good – at least by professional standards.

Luckily, leaders can do something in order to become better at giving feedback. Here are four practical and research-based tips:

  1. The content of any feedback should be tailored to the individual’s level of mastery and progression. Your co-workers have different qualities and prerequisites for solving their tasks.
  2. In terms of timing, you should give feedback as close as possible to the event in question and be as specific as you can be, so that the employee does not forget what has transpired and is still able to relate to the situation.
  3. Try to make meeting your employees regularly a part of your daily life at work. Research shows that feedback should be given so that it is perceived as frequent and constructive.
  4. First and foremost, you should always seek out and acknowledge the strengths of your employees. That will obviously not prevent you from commenting on behaviour that can be improved. It is easier to succeed with such corrections if the employees are also told that they are actually doing well.


This article is published as an opinion piece in Kapital nr. 21-2017.

Published 5. February 2018

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