Study: CEOs Open to Negative Feedback Are More Likely to Succeed

CEOs who ask their colleagues for feedback on concerns such as management style or effectiveness will garner more confidence from team members and a better bottom line, according to a new study that confirms several long-held executive truisms.

Published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, the survey gathered data from the executive teams and 422 employees across 65 organizations in the United States and Belgium. CEOs included in the study averaged 13 years in the position.

CEOs Should Be Humble

The study directly points out the takeaway: Humility marks the difference between feedback seeking CEO and one more focused on his or her own vision.

“This study contrasts the effects on top management team (TMT) potency and organizational performance of a more humble (feedback seeking) and a less humble (vision) CEO leader behavior,” the survey says. “We hypothesize that CEO feedback seeking increases TMT potency and firm performance by communicating to TMT members that the organization values their input and encouraging their own feedback seeking, whereas CEO vision articulation influences these outcomes by fostering greater clarity about the firm’s direction, and an enhanced ability to coordinate efforts within the TMT.

[…] CEO feedback seeking has its strongest effects on firm performance and TMT potency for CEOs who are not seen as having a vision.”

Sure, CEOs still need to measure whether the feedback is correct, but being willing to listen is a first step. The findings align with what other CEO experts have held, as Krister Ungerboeck, a CEO coach at CEO Growth, explains:

“The findings of this study line up with what I have been telling my clients for years. When CEOs are willing to be vulnerable and open themselves up to possible negative feedback, amazing growth can happen,” says the CEO coach, adding, “Instead of giving people the answer you want, ask open-ended questions and let them find their own way. This is the only way you can help your employees develop and grow. Talk less, observe more, and hear everything.”

By balancing the demands of the current quarter with employees’ more long-term aims, a talented CEO can gain the feedback needed to see growth in the bottom line.

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Adam is a writer at and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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