Failing to provide and seek feedback is the root cause of immature leadership behavior. An employee suffering under such leadership has few options to address the problem. Identifying the boss’ motives to withhold feedback, engaging in conversation, and seeking feedback from trusted peers is the way to go, short of finding new employment.

“You get mixed messages because I have mixed feelings.” – Sarah Kane. 

That’s not how leadership works, however. Inconsistent and conflicting feedback from executives can have devastating effects on the morale and productivity of the workforce. That said, many leaders and managers fail to realize the role of feedback in getting their employees involved, engaged, and motivated.

mixed messages

Conflicting messages undermine trust. 

Coaching Executives Who Fail to Provide Consistent Feedback

From the perspective of leadership coaching, getting leaders to provide and demand consistent feedback is a top priority. A lack of feedback is a failure of leadership.

In my leadership coaching books, I have made it clear that giving feedback is an essential part of clear communication on the part of the leader. I have always deemed the existence of a continuous feedback loop to be critical for personal and organizational success.

Executive coaching professionals should communicate to leaders that giving effective feedback and soliciting feedback voluntarily are essential leadership competencies. Only through feedback can a leader build up the trust and genuine relationships that lend them the clout to lead.

How can employees address inconsistent feedback from their leaders/managers?

Assessing the Situation

For an employee, the lack of consistent feedback from a boss is a problem that may escalate to having to quit the job. If you find yourself in this position, think it over thoroughly before deciding to make a potentially career-altering move. Try to find out why your boss withholds feedback from you.

  • Perhaps your boss is not happy with your performance
  • Your boss does not know how to provide feedback and does not understand its role in leadership
  • Your boss worries about losing you
  • Your skills and abilities threaten your boss, who worries that you will take their job

Understanding the motives of your higher-ups defines what you can do to address the issue of inconsistent feedback. If your boss makes deliberate efforts to suppress your progress, your only option is to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Most often, however, the lack of optimal back-and-forth feedback is the result of neglect, incompetence, or a mix of the two. In such cases, you can explore less drastic avenues of resolution.

Gaining Feedback from Other Parties

If you consistently do your best, but your boss refuses to give you any feedback, seek counsel from other parties. Ask your colleagues to assess your performance. To obtain reliable information, you can make the feedback process anonymous.

Set up a performance plan based on the information you gain from relevant third parties to prepare for a conversation with your boss.

While engaging colleagues, try to find out whether they have feedback-related problems similar to yours. If they do, you are probably dealing with a case of benign neglect rather than malevolence on the part of your higher-up.

Managing Your Manager

If you know that your boss is not deliberately withholding feedback from you, it makes sense to talk to them.

Try to be caring and, at the same time, demand specific information through the conversation. Do not ask fuzzy questions, as you will likely receive useless answers that way.


You need specifics. 

Ask your boss for specific recommendations and advice on how to improve your performance. Try to walk away with some actionable conclusions from the conversation.

Countering Learned Helplessness

The problem inconsistent management creates is one of learned helplessness.

Managerial incompetence can lead to conflicting communication and uncertain directions. Unable to mend this situation, employees come to accept that there is nothing they can do to improve the performance of their team.

Inconsistent feedback and reinforcement on the part of the leader can destroy the employees’ confidence in their abilities and competence.

As I have pointed out in my book Intelligent Leadership, learned helplessness is the root of immature leadership behavior.

Leaders can combat this destructive state of mind by building a reservoir of positive references, either through direct experience, or experiencing certain situations vicariously, through relevant entities.

For an employee, however, the tools against learned helplessness are limited to talking to the boss/HR, seeking the advice/feedback of trusted coworkers, or finding new employment.

Interested in learning more about executive coaching, business coaching, and leadership in general? Check out my books.


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