“I will not offer a gift that costs me nothing.”

The biblical story of King David tells of a time when one of his subjects offered to freely give him the wood and oxen for a sacrificial offering to God (2 Samuel 24:24). David refused because a gift that did not cost him anything personally would not be meaningful.

One of the most significant gifts a leader can give employees is the gift of feedback.


Personal Investment Communicates Value

At this time of year, we are thinking about gifts. Some of the best gifts do not cost money, but they can still be costly. For example, think about the time investment of making a gift or creating your own card. Or what about the heart investment of a hand-written note or the traditional Christmas letter to share significant events of the year? We value such gifts because it costs the giver something personal.

On the other hand, we have access to so many options that make gifts easier, faster, more convenient. I am a huge customer of Amazon because of the value of convenience, but convenience is not always the highest value we should pursue. When it comes to people, our own personal investment communicates to the other person that we value them—that they are important and worth our time.


The Cost of Employee Feedback

Feedback should be a costly gift. A leader’s time is precious, and it seems like there is never enough of it. But giving quality employee feedback will cost the leader a significant amount of time. The leader needs time to reflect on each employee—his or her personality, strengths, weaknesses, performance, and development needs.

Many leaders have not cultivated the habit of making time for reflection, so the task of preparing to give feedback seems overwhelming. That’s one of the reasons we procrastinate on annual employee reviews. Unfortunately, when we put off preparing for and giving feedback, we are communicating that our employees are less important, less valuable than the other tasks we make time to pursue.

Feedback is also costly because of the risks we take when speaking the truth. We all know that constructive feedback can backfire. Even with the best intentions and the best words, our feedback can bring out defensiveness, denial, or anger. It takes courage to speak the words people need to hear so that they can grow. Courage is a costly virtue.


Life-Giving Feedback

It may sound grandiose to you, but feedback can be a life-giving experience. Next month, I’ll be blogging about four times I was given feedback that stung at first, but later produced greater health, self-awareness, and joy. The people who gave me that feedback did so at a personal cost and with personal risk. But I reaped the benefit. In every case, I felt valued and invested in.

Consider these four movements of life-giving feedback:

  1. Life-giving feedback begins with noticing the uniqueness and value of an employee. You may be the first to articulate that uniqueness in words.
  2. Life-giving feedback envisions the best possible future for the other person and helps them to see what they could become.
  3. Life-giving feedback openly shares obstacles and potential blind spots that could keep the employee from achieving their best future.
  4. Life-giving feedback expresses confidence in their ability to move forward and offers reliable support for their efforts.

Employee feedback is an expensive gift. But the people who work with you are worth it. This year, give them a gift that costs you something and communicates their value both to you and the company.

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Dr. Shero believes that leadership can be learned and that the best organizations intentionally develop leadership at every level. Leaders have the privilege of influencing other human lives for the better. That's why Phillip cares so much about learning to lead well and helping others do the same.

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