Lie 5: People Need Feedback

This is a video excerpt from The Freethinking Leader Coalition, unpacking the fifth lie in Marcus and Ashley’s upcoming book, Nine Lies about Work. To view the full video, read book excerpts, and engage with the authors, join here by pre-ordering the book. To learn more about The Freethinking Leader Coalition, click here.

We’ve been told over, and over, and over again that if you want someone to excel, you need to give them feedback. Companies have embraced this idea so entirely that courses on how to give and receive feedback and apps that allow you to constantly rate your peers have become a fixture in the world of work. And the theory underpinning this is that we will all get better if we have the benefit of feedback.

That belief is based upon three theories, and unfortunately, all of them are false. Negative feedback will not help you grow. Click To Tweet

False Belief #1: I am a source of truth about you.

In order to believe that my feedback will somehow make you better, we have to accept that I am a source of truth about you. That I can tell you if you lack strategic thinking or that you don’t have executive presence – that I must tell you these things, because if I didn’t, you wouldn’t know. And then you could never get better.

Here’s why this belief is false: because humans are unreliable raters of other humans. I am not a source of truth about you, I can only ever be a source of truth about myself and my own feelings. I can’t tell you that you lack strategic thinking; but I can say that I’m confused. I can’t tell you that you don’t have executive presence; but I can tell you that I’m bored. I am a reliable rater of my own experience and intentions, but I’m not a reliable rater or assessor of you, on anything.

False Belief #2: Learning is a process of filling up an empty space.

It is also a commonly-held belief that the way people learn is by taking input from the outside world and filling themselves up with it. That in order to really understand and grow, we must fill ourselves with facts and opinions from the outside world.

As it turns out, learning is much less about putting something in that isn’t there and much more about manifesting something that is already there, within you. Most learning is insight – it’s generating recognition from within.

False Belief #3: Excellence can be defined in advance.

You’ve heard this from me before, but so many of us think that we can look at excellence in anything – independent of the person who is actually being excellent – and write it down so we have a model to which we can compare people.

Yet if you look at excellence in the real world, you don’t see everyone doing it the same way. Excellence is inextricably wrapped up in the person being excellent. Even something as seemingly basic as free-throwing in basketball; if you were to write down a model of how to be excellent at free throws, I highly doubt you would include “throw it granny style” as a method. And yet, when he retired, Rick Barry was the best free-thrower in the history of the NBAFeedback will never create excellent performance. Click To Tweet

There are many more reasons why negative feedback is completely unhelpful to growth and excellence, which you can read about when Nine Lies about Work comes out in April – but if you want to learn the truth about what does create growth and performance, join the Freethinking Leader Coalition today.



  1. Vera January 8, 2019 at 4:58 AM - Reply

    Thank you so much! It made so much sense for me, because I’ve always felt that way, but you’ve put it so clearly into words.

  2. Stephanie January 8, 2019 at 5:15 AM - Reply

    Couldn’t you say that being someone’s audience and providing your reaction to them is a form of feedback?

  3. Bob Barnes January 8, 2019 at 12:58 PM - Reply

    Marcus, I love these. I have read all your books and I guess your can call me a disciple. I try to put into practice many of your ideas on focusing on your strengths and turning the performance measurement system upside down. I really liked this video on feedback. You are spot on!

  4. Jerry Busone January 9, 2019 at 6:00 AM - Reply

    Think Marcus uses the term “course correct” in place of feedback. Assuming feedback always is negative ….I do believe there is a place for opinion and candor even from non experts …and us style varies as in free throws and if someone never “ course corrected” my style it would have made it different being a good free trip shooter . What I do like is the focus on strengths … even that requires fee…I mean course correcting coaching . Love to be on the leader panel Nice video…

  5. Nicola January 9, 2019 at 9:12 AM - Reply

    Feedback has a role where there is a clear process and standard to be achieved. The correct tightening of wheel nuts using a torque wrench, the following of a script, the baking of a cake, the execution of a set play all benefit from feedback.

    But creativity and improvisation and managing complexity are rather less bound by clear processes and standards.

  6. Aaron January 10, 2019 at 4:11 PM - Reply


    Intentionally or not he’s clouding the topic.
    Do people need feedback? No. Of course not. No one needs to improve, or improve through feedback.
    But, feedback does help you to improve skills.

    He says, “I can’t tell you to truth about you.”
    Well, of course not. But we aren’t talking about the “truth.”

    Feedback is usually about the performance of a skill. If you didn’t make any eye contact with an audience, I will give you the feedback that “Eye contact will help the audience better connect with you.” Take it or leave it – that has nothing to do with the “truth about you,” but does have to do with the truth about presentations.

    Feedback done right is a mirror in which you can see “the spinach in your teeth” of any skill you wish to improve.
    I welcome your feedback on the above.

    • Michael Timms April 19, 2019 at 8:07 PM - Reply

      I agree with Aaron. I’d love to see what “research” Buckingham is relying on, because what he is saying flies in the face of reality. I am a leadership development consultant and speaker. The primary way I become a better speaker is asking for feedback from attendees. When I hear common themes, I adjust. Then guess what, the next time, my assessment scores get better.

      Or, for example, when my wife tells me that she thinks I handled a parenting situation poorly, she’s usually right. I listen to her feedback, adjust, and do better next time.

      To say feedback is not helpful for development, and in fact harmful, is absolutely ludicrous.

      I think Buckingham is trying to be controversial to sell more books.

  7. Emilie January 16, 2019 at 9:03 AM - Reply

    Hello, I am pretty interested in the topic and about what Marcus has to say about it but I also have to admit that I am a bit confused as in a research from Zenger/Folkman, i think it is said that the willingness of a manager to provide feedback to subordinates is a powerful way to increase employee engagement and commitment. ​Those employees who receive the least are the least engaged. ​What is the right way to look at this ? Maybe they are not talking about the same feedback ?

  8. Diane Vance April 5, 2019 at 4:30 AM - Reply

    Whenever an organisation sets an expectation that I’ll do performance reviews with staff, I generally undertake the conversations with 4 key questions – What’s gone well? What’s gone not so well? What would you like to do more of? What support do you need?. In this way, each team member freely gives me feedback about themselves, the organisational processes, company policies, education and training preferences, their plans and ideas, and so on. Sometimes their feedback will lead me to throw out the existing roles, and establish new roles that better align with team members’ capabilities, talents, motivations and passion. There really is no point, e.g., keeping a ‘people person’ in the document management area, or an introvert in the customer service area. Building an awareness of personality types through, e.g., DISC certainly helps to determine where staff are happiest in contributing to the organisation. Implementing a self-determing team culture where they drive their own individual and collective performance brings immediate bottom line benefit. And they are respected as adults, rather than treated as recalcitrant children.

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