How CEOs Should Handle Negative Feedback

How CEOs Should Handle Negative Feedback

How CEOs Should Handle Negative Feedback

How CEOs Should Handle Negative Feedback

A Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence study reveals that executives at the top of the career ladder have inflated egos. That leads to the question: how should CEOs handle negative feedback? The study asks 1,000 low-, mid-, and high-level managers to rank their performance and then ask their teams to rate them. 

Results reveal that first-level managers rate themselves similarly to their teams’ assessment. The gap widens with mid-level managers ranking their performance higher than the teams’ rating. Finally, the highest gap occurs with senior-level managers. In other words, as employees move up the career ladder, their view of themselves increases, and their self-awareness decreases.

Executives Often Suppress The Feedback That Would Help Themselves And Their Companies Grow

When a corporate board criticizes company performance or a Wall Street analyst issues a heated critique on company stock, executives can listen, learn, and use the feedback to strengthen their company. Whether or not CEOs invite this feedback and how they respond to it are some of the best indicators of their company’s future growth and success.

Lately, we have witnessed the beginnings of the “feedforward” movement. We saw C-suite executives encouraging constructive criticism that would move their companies forward. This movement implied that feedback was welcomed and expected from every employee. But how is that movement playing out in reality? Despite the rhetoric, many CEOs continue to present an “I know better” persona that dissuades honest and truthful feedback.

What Prevents Executives From Taking Feedback In Stride?

The C-suite aversion to negative feedback is likely an inherited trait. Just as we pick up bad habits during childhood, CEOs learn leadership skills as they advance through the ranks while working under other executives. Many C-suite executives learned their leadership style in an environment where honest feedback was often discouraged or punished. For these executives, criticism is a foreign concept. No wonder they are uncomfortable handling negative feedback from employees and other colleagues. Naturally, they carry this culture forward. 

Organizations constantly perpetuate this behavior as they train upcoming leaders. For example, I remember sitting through a presentation in which one of our client leadership teams offered pointers on how best to provide negative feedback to a C-level leader. The techniques presented included front-loading concerns with sincere compliments, opening with positives before describing negatives, and ensuring the timing is right before providing negative feedback. Unfortunately, these tips were a clear indication of the style and culture within the organization. Whether the lesson was intentional or not, this organization was designing a culture of passive obedience.

What Happens When CEOs Cannot Take Constructive Criticism?

When C-level leaders cannot handle negative feedback, they become a liability to the organization. Rather than seeking out a team to offer them open and honest feedback, they surround themselves with a group of people to shield and protect them. 

This structure creates dysfunction across the entire organization. When CEOs suppress feedback, they develop blind spots or areas lacking knowledge. They do not see the problems in their blind spots, and no one will tell them about them. In addition, they acquire vulnerabilities. When a business does not fortify itself against weaknesses or threats, competitors exploit its vulnerability.

Tips To Help CEOs Handle Negative Feedback

To break this cycle of suppressing negative feedback, organizations must adopt a mindset of “Lean Leadership.” Toyota production systems gave us this Lean approach to business processes. It is based on the principles of delivering customer value, eliminating waste, and achieving continuous improvement. 

Since efficiency is the constant goal of lean leadership, these leaders constantly question their methods and processes to improve their organizations. They seek honesty from customers, employees, and anyone who can help them improve. As I grew up through the ranks of Toyota, I remember how strange it felt to experience a culture where leaders welcomed and embraced diverse opinions. Unfortunately, this type of leadership is not the norm.


Before a company’s culture can change, the mindset of its executives must change. So, how should CEOs handle negative feedback? When they recognize each piece of feedback as a gift and every problem as an opportunity, their company will — at last — be nourished by the input it so desperately needs.


Need help learning how to solve your business’s accounting technology needs and selecting the right software for accounting or CPA Firms? Visit us at, where we make sophisticated technology understandable to anyone through our conferences, seminars, or on-demand courses.

The ideas in this article came from Izzy Galicia,
business consulting expert & President/CEO of the Incito Consulting Group. Galacia is the recipient of the distinguished National Association of Manufacturers Award and the Shingo Prize for manufacturing excellence with experience at Toyota.