For any business leader, accurate feedback is critical. There’s no better way to gain perspective on how your style of leadership impacts the running of your business than by ensuring that staff feel comfortable and confident in providing honest feedback. The depth of insight this provides is almost always instrumental in building high-performance teams. CEOs who nurture a strong feedback culture within their organizations will almost certainly create conditions for successful collaboration in the workplace.

The Business Executive Network held an exclusive webinar for our members at which three top industry leaders provided their perspectives on this key issue. Members were treated to expert analyses on how to implement stronger feedback processes within business teams, focusing on how upper management can benefit from two-way conversations where both sides gain from the process.

Our first speaker, Gary Malcolm, Managing Partner at LHH Vietnam, addressed a growing and profound disconnect that has arisen since the advent of Covid-19 between how leaders view their organization versus what the rest of the organization sees. Research shows that all over the world this disconnect has translated into an erosion of relationships between leaders and managers as well as a huge drop in motivation. Gary’s answer to this problem is a renewed focus on self-awareness.

“Self-awareness is extremely important for leaders,” said Malcolm while addressing the webinar’s attendees. “If there’s a performance gap, it allows you to close it. It helps you demonstrate empathy, it helps you build trust with your people, and it helps you interact with your teams. On the flip side, if you’ve got poor self-awareness then you bring a very toxic leadership culture to your organization with low engagement and low performance and productivity, and then you start having difficulties attracting and retaining people. This is what happens when there’s a big gap between how senior leaders think they’re performing, and how managers in organizations see that senior leaders are performing.”

Malcolm’s work as an executive coach has given him three relevant insights that he shared with our members. Firstly, he’s seen that many CEOs working in Vietnam have developed some glaring blind spots towards their businesses, including how they view themselves and how they lead and manage people, which is often very different from how other people in the organization view them. Secondly, in his Leader Assimilation Workshops, he’s noticed that leaders are often genuinely surprised at the content of feedback collected about them from employees. The third observation is that leaders here rarely create a safe environment where feedback is welcome. Wherever people fear the consequences of providing feedback, none will be offered.


Malcolm’s talk was followed by some words from Tom Sullivan, Regional GM of Detmold Group, who shared how feedback is the only mechanism that allows a leader to check and adjust. Leaders often reach a lonely place at the head of an organization after having built their career on a diet of feedback that comes on heavy in the early years, gets more structured as they move to middle management, and then entirely drops off when they move into the top job.

“A lot of the time your only feedback is a monthly board meeting,” explained Sullivan. “You’re not likely to be getting too many pats on the back, you’re more likely to be told which part of the business needs pushing harder or is not hitting its targets. That personal growth you were getting throughout your career can dry out, so you’ve got to get it from other sources. That means external or internal direct reports, which can involve getting a mentor or coach. When you’ve got these simple things coming from personal customers, suppliers and so on, these stakeholders will all give you feedback. So it’s all about whether you’re willing to listen, and you can really get lots of rich information from that.”

Sullivan’s advice is for CEOs to make themselves vulnerable in asking for feedback, to talk to their direct reports and get them to feel comfortable giving feedback, lest “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. By making structured communication frameworks, teams will have the opportunity to engage, leading to company-wide feedback, accountability and knowledge sharing.


Our final speaker before the floor was opened for questions and discussion was Rick Yvanovich, Founder and CEO of TRG International who pointed out that feedback needs to be a conversation, and that while we need to provide negative feedback to point out areas of learning and growth, it’s equally important to give positive feedback to highlight strengths and contributions and to provide encouragement. He also noted that excessive negative feedback often leads to its recipients becoming demotivated and disengaged. This suggests that CEOs should be careful to give feedback in a carefully structured way.

“A long time ago, I was taught that the best way to give feedback is the ‘feedback sandwich,’ where you say something nice, hit with the criticism, and then say something nice again,” said Yvanovich. “I’d say don’t do that! It might make ME feel good as the giver, but it’s a bit of a cop-out for me, and it’s not very authentic because I’m hiding the truth. I suggest the FBI approach, which stands for Feeling, Behaviour and Impact. I explain what I feel, which can’t be challenged because it starts with an ‘I’ statement. Then I name the specific behavior in context, and then the impact is how this affects whatever it may be.”

The importance of Rick’s suggested feedback structure is that it should stimulate a conversation. This allows the feedback recipient the opportunity to exercise their emotional intelligence in a manner that builds trust and an open mind.

The webinar format allowed for an extended conversation between members as we discussed the impact of the presentations from our speakers. The positive response from attendees and the success of the event will certainly lead to the convening of many more such events in the future as our members continue to share their perspectives and considerable experience with others.

Any readers who have not yet joined the Business Executive Network are encouraged to sign up and take advantage of future events such as these to help in their journey to become better leaders and create more positive experiences for their teams. [C]

Never miss an update about our events and articles
Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
If you would like to learn more about our events and membership, or have other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.