The Cruelty of No Feedback

Better an open reprimand than concealed love. The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. (Proverbs 27:5-6)

According to the proverb, it is loving to provide corrective feedback to those you love. Corrective feedback, of course, is not about being right or about making a point. The motivation of God-honoring feedback is ultimately for the good of the friend you love.

Sadly, most ministries and organizations struggle with providing feedback to team members. Someone displays a deficiency in the execution of his or her role, and leaders fail to address the problem. Instead, weak leaders, under the false pretense of compassion, either ignore the problem or develop a workaround.

(1)  Ignore the deficiency.

A common practice is to shrug off the deficiency, to ignore it. Those who do settle for mediocrity and frustrate other team members by continually allowing the collective competence of the team to be brought down.

(2)  Work around the deficiency.

Another common practice is to create a workaround, to create an unnecessary step in the process or to pass on additional work to others to compensate. The result is a more complicated system and unnecessary redundancies in work flow.

There is a better way. Instead of ignoring the deficiency or working around it, provide loving and corrective feedback. Not providing feedback is cruel to the team and the organization, but it is also cruel to the person. In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin makes the strong case that the top performers in any field have engaged in “deliberate practice” for sustained seasons of their lives. One critical aspect of deliberate practice is continual feedback. The best performers have been fortunate to have people throughout their lives provide real-time feedback regarding their craft.

Steve Kerr (not the hoops player but the former chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs) says, “Practice without feedback is like bowling through a curtain that hangs down at knee level.” What a crazy way to play!

For the last 10 years, I have led very intentional annual review processes with teams I lead. Many times someone who has been in the ministry or in the organization for decades has responded tearfully, “This is the first time someone has offered me this type of feedback. It is so helpful.” Annual reviews as the sole source of feedback would be limited in value, but my experience with them shows that people really do long for feedback. And those who want to get better will do so when feedback is continually provided.

If you are not providing feedback to those you lead, you are not being loving. You are being cruel. In fact, you may be providing the excessive kisses of an enemy.