Leaving Good Performers in the Dark

Patrick’s Weekly Leadership Tip: Don’t fall into the negativity trap. This is when you only provide feedback to people when they make mistakes or fall short. Make it your mission to catch people doing things right.


I recently delivered a virtual presentation to an international audience.

During a pre-event call two weeks before the session, the client and I discussed expectations, audience composition, and schedule. The client informed me that the event would start at 4 am (my time) and asked that I join 15 minutes early to ensure everything was working.

I woke up at 3 am on presentation day, got ready, and logged in at 3:40 am. The system put me in the Waiting Room until the host admitted me.

Ten minutes passed. I was still waiting with no sign of anyone.

I was starting to get anxious. Did I have the time mixed up? Was I in the wrong virtual room? What was going on?

At 3:55 am, the host let me into the virtual conference and greeted me via chat.

Host: Is this Patrick?

Me: Yes.

Host: Thank you.

Five minutes passed.

Me: Are we starting soon?

Host: Yes.

Host: Would you please say something? We want to test the audio.

Me speaking: “Hello. My name is Patrick Leddin. Soundcheck.”

Five more minutes passed.

Host: Would you please say something else? We want to double-check the volume.

Me: Yes.

Me speaking: “Hi. My name is Patrick Leddin. We are double-checking the volume.”

Me: How was that?

Host: Good. Thank you.

Three more minutes pass.

Host: Please share your presentation slides.

Me. Ok

I shared my slides.

At 4:14 am, my screen lit up, and I could see the room. More accurately, I could see part of the room. From my angle, I was looking at a stage with four empty chairs and a large screen projecting my presentation’s opening slide.

At 4:15 am, a man walked onto the stage and began talking. Unable to speak his language, the only thing that I could understand was my name. When he finished talking, he stepped out of view.

The image on the screen split, revealing my face on the left and my presentation slide on the right.

Assuming it was my turn to talk, I smiled, thanked them for inviting me, and launched into my presentation. I did not see or hear the audience for the entirety of my talk. I received no feedback – zero.

Sixty minutes later, I finished my presentation. The guy walked back on stage and shared a few more words, including my name.

Then the screen went blank.

The host then sent me another chat.

Host: Thank you.

Was that ok?

Yes. Thank you.

The webinar closed.

Suddenly, it’s just me, and my dog, Magnus, standing in my home studio at 5:15 am, looking at each other.

Me: What just happened?

Magnus: I have no idea.

Later that day, I sent a note to the client asking for feedback. With the time difference and his heightened workload from running the conference, it was a few days before he responded.

During those few days, I wondered if I met their expectations. Experience has taught me that if something had gone wrong, I would have heard from them. So, I assumed that all was fine. That said, silence can send a strong message too and I couldn’t help but second guess myself.

I was in the dark.

When the client did respond, he sent pictures and a video from the event showing a full room of engaged participants. They were clapping, laughing, and taking notes. Along with the images, he thanked me for an excellent presentation and apologized for not responding sooner explaining that he had been very busy.

I was glad to hear that I did well, but sure wish I hadn’t spent those days in the dark. When you are left in the dark, you make erroneous assumptions, second guess yourself, and hold back on your best efforts.

Have you ever left your people in the dark when they were doing solid work?

Here are five ways to shine a bit of light on great work.

  1. Be consistent. Don’t let your feedback ebb and flow with your energy level or allow yourself to become so busy that people don’t know when they are succeeding.
  2. Be specific. Don’t talk in vague terms. Instead, point out particular behaviors and results that you want to encourage.
  3. Be timely. Don’t wait too long to tell people they are doing well. Tell them in the moment.
  4. Be proactive. Don’t fall into the negative feedback trap. This is when you only provide feedback when people make mistakes or fall short. Be on the lookout to catch people doing things right.
  5. Be inspiring. Don’t miss the chance to share why their great work matters. Make connections to strategy, vision, or big goals, so people are inspired to continue their efforts.

Be sure to check out this week’s video and tool. Use both to put this week’s lesson into practice. Feel free to share with others to help them give positive feedback to their people.

I think you will find this week’s Leadership Lab podcast episode to be an excellent complement to the discussion of shining a light on people. Erica Keswin joins me in the Leadership Lab to discuss how to attract, engage, and retain top talent. With two Wall Street Journal bestselling books to her credit, Erica shares how teams and organizations create rituals that foster engagement and create a human-centric workplace.

This Week’s Questions

  1. When was the last time you felt like you were doing good work, but were not receiving feedback from your boss?
  2. How did the above situation make you feel?
  3. Are you leaving good performers in the dark? If so, what should you do about it?

This Week’s Challenge

Catch two people doing things right this week and let them know you appreciate their efforts. Be specific, timely, and inspiring with your feedback.

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