How to Give Feedback to Your Boss


Delivering feedback is one of the most challenging and most important things leaders do. Usually we think about feedback in terms of our direct reports, but your boss may need some, too. After all, your boss has a big impact on how you and others work. Today, we'll look at three kinds of bosses who can make your job more difficult. We'll look at how you can help your boss make some important tweaks, without it feeling awkward or painful. These strategies can show your boss the impact of his behavior while reinforcing that you're on the same team. As always, the goal is to take the discomfort out of feedback by making it more about working together toward shared goals.

The MIA Boss

Some bosses are great at delegating and empowering others. You might appreciate the level of trust and independence this boss gives you. But the downside is that giving employees feedback is the exception, not the rule, for him. In fact, you may only hear from him when something goes wrong. That means you could be missing opportunities to address problems earlier or to leverage your strengths more fully.

Don't expect this boss (or any boss, for that matter) to suddenly change his style. He's busy, and may not be skilled at giving feedback because he doesn't do it that often. So, if you want to know how you’re doing, take the initiative to schedule time to talk and facilitate the conversation. For example, you can go into the meeting with a one-page bulleted list of your accomplishments and results, feedback you have received from others and what you're working on to further develop your skills. Asking your boss to react to something like that can be far less daunting than asking him, "How am I doing?"

The Micromanager Boss

On the other hand, some bosses constantly look over your shoulder. Although it may not feel like it, their intent is usually positive: ensuring high quality work and supporting you. But they may get bogged down in minute details, or take over part of your responsibilities or decision-making authority. An employee with a boss like this often feels mistrusted and gets frustrated by the redundancy between their roles.

When giving feedback to this kind of boss, acknowledge her intent and show that you are aligned with it. Let's say your boss values responsiveness to senior executives. You could start your conversation with her by acknowledging the importance of this and then making suggestions: "I know we need to make sure we're being responsive to senior executives. If you can share the turnaround time and the relative importance of each key area, I can do more of the critical legwork before getting you involved. This will help me make more progress on my own, take less of your time on the detailed work, and allow me to leverage you more for a high-level review."

The 'Fire Drill' Boss

Then there are the bosses who are focused on showing their responsiveness to their own boss — and they expect the same level of responsiveness from you, even at the expense of larger priorities. They're so reactive that they don't have a sense of the big picture. A typical behavior: They don't start a presentation early enough to undergo the needed levels of review and then try to cram everything into a really tight time frame. They don't think about the impact that habits like that have on their team.

Because this kind of boss probably doesn't notice the damage he's doing, it can help to frame this in the context of what you want to achieve. To the boss who always rushes presentations, you could say: "I've noticed we often have a short turn-around time on presentations, which makes it difficult to ensure the level of quality that you want. So, I have some suggestions that may help.”  This positions you as a steward of quality, not a critic of the boss. From there, you can suggest improvements like establishing a timeline and milestones for the presentations.

This week, take 10 minutes to think about your working relationship with your boss. What could he or she do to help you achieve the results that are important to you both? What one small tweak can you make to frame the feedback in a way that guides your boss’s behavior while protecting your relationship? You can find more advice about managing all of your work relationships — bosses, peers, directs — in my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens. And you can download five free chapters on my website.