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Why Lack of Feedback Might Be the One Thing Holding You Back

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Success comes to women who look for feedback—instead of waiting for it to come

A lot of ink has been spilled over why women are not as successful in the workplace as they should be after decades of focus on the issue. Each week, it seems like the same articles are published with varying shades of gray on issues like the wage gap and the lack of female executives and board members.

The real reason women lag behind in the workplace?

But this week, an interesting take on the issue was published in the Harvard Business Review by Shelly Correll, a professor at Stanford, and Caroline Simard, the Senior Research Director at the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership at Stanford University.

According to Correll and Simard:

Although companies have invested heavily in programs to advance women leaders, the number of women in executive roles has not changed significantly in the last decade. Even if women are well represented as middle managers, their numbers drop off when making the jump to VP-level executives. Why are women not rising to executive ranks?

One reason they offer is a discrepancy between the ways men and women receive feedback. “Our research shows that women are systematically less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes, both when they receive praise and when the feedback is developmental,” they write. “In other words, men are offered a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more-specific guidance of what is needed to get to the next level.”

The results of lack of feedback for women in the workplace

Both Correll and Simard hypothesize that this lack of feedback shows a bias in the workplace, where reviewers are less likely to view a woman’s technical expertise and contributions as meaningful to the business’s outcomes. Also, there appears to be a fear among men that if they give critical feedback, it won’t be taken in the right light.

As Correll and Simard write, “Clearly, these dynamics can disadvantage women at promotion time. Without specific, documented business accomplishments, it is difficult for a manager to make the case for advancement. Conversely, if a business objective was missed, a lack of frank feedback deprives women of the opportunity to hit the mark next time.”

In support of these findings and their conclusions, Correll and Simard cite a Microsoft pilot program called Step Up that focuses on equipping leaders with the skills needed to grow, grounded in “clear and actionable feedback.” The result was 6 out of 17 women in the program being promoted to a leadership role.

Why feedback is so essential for success

All this serves to highlight the importance of feedback in any situation. Most women I interact with—and those I write for—are not interested so much in climbing the corporate ladder as they are in making great investments and building great businesses. Yet, the principles of “clear and actionable feedback” still apply.

In fact, both Robert and I believe so much in the power of feedback, that we’ve invested for decades in both personal and professional coaching, and continue to do so. We also created a coaching program through Rich Dad to help people achieve their financial dreams.

We’re firm believers that no matter how successful you become, you always need someone you trust to be able to speak into your life, show you where you can grow, and to give you a clear path forward for that growth. That kind of feedback is invaluable—and you can’t grow without it.

The best time for feedback

I’ve found that feedback is most valuable when I’m stuck in a rut and unclear of where to go next. We all get to this point. We’ve done all we can in our own strength and power. We’ve exhausted the well of our experiences and knowledge. In short, we need help.

Those who are humble enough (and wise enough) to admit they need help at these times are the ones who are most successful in life. It’s those who refuse to look for feedback that never grow. Maybe they think the feedback will be too painful. Or maybe they think they can figure this out on their own. Whatever the reason, they simply keep trying the same things over and over again, only to see the same results.

If you’re ready to go to the next level, I encourage you to start by seeking feedback from a mentor and coach that you trust. The keyword here is seeking. As Correll and Simard show, feedback rarely comes to us—especially as women. We have to go looking for it. We have to sometimes even force it out of people. But when we do, amazing things happen.

Today, get the feedback you deserve and you’ll be on the way to creating the future you deserve.

Original publish date: May 05, 2016

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