We're running regular surveys in which all employees are asked to rate various aspects of their workplace, and that gets then summarised and condensed and gives me, as a line manager, the opportunity to understand what the people reporting to me think of the company, the team and their environment. My general expectation is to load without surprise, that is, lead in such a way that no action or feedback in itself comes as a surprise. So I was surprised when the results of one of those surveys were actually not great.

And then I thought back to a piece of advice I've read or gotten a while back – one of the most valuable pieces of advice from my perspective: Do not react to feedback in the moment. Probably mostly applicable to feedback that is delivered in a more direct form of interaction, it really got me thinking. On safety, on feedback and on how to get to a no-surprise environment as a leader.

Taking a step back, "managing down" with an approach of no surprise is not a piece of cake either. It takes an honest reflection of the delta between expectations and the reality you find in your team - and with your people, and also requires a level of integrity that makes you deliver necessary feedback and criticism in a direct way. To be candid. (By the way, go and read Radical Cantor by Kim Scott, outstanding read). That's a skill set that can mostly be learned, the important part is to diligently apply it.

Realistically, your reports should neither have to develop that skill set nor have to apply it just to save you from a moment of surprise when receiving feedback the other way around. Rather, it's up to you and us as leaders to make it stupidly easy to give feedback, especially on topics that might be perceived as negative by whomever you're reporting to. And receiving feedback, in a leadership role, consists of three distinct phases – and you can mess each one of those up. Time to take notes.

First, you have to create opportunities. Personally, I like to every once in a while ask for feedback in 1:1s, offering plenty of opportunities to share that. One of the lines that I like to use to emphasise transparent handling of feedback is

Hey XX, I was wondering how I'm doing my job from your perspective - and I'd really like to understand if there's something you think I should be doing differently or better. Feel free to share that now or drop me a mail. It's also perfectly fine if you'd rather not.

There's something there that's relevant for me that's probably described as "feedback without cause". I very actively avoid asking for feedback around "loaded" situations, like conflicts, challenges or interventions. Feedback can wait until the ship is in the harbour, no need to ask during the storm. Create opportunities, but be smart about when you create them.

The second thing that works well for me is to create a precedent – show that it's safe to critique you, and that you will not leash out, single out the person criticising or react negatively in any other way. Make it obviously very safe, also in a group setting, to share challenging feedback. In any healthy team, some people will take over the part of helping you create those moments. But you need to be really mindful of the fact that your folks will likely watch your reaction much more than what you're actually responding. Body language, Tone – that's what matters much more than any messaging.

Probably what matters most is to create results – based on feedback. Just taking in feedback without acting on it is the most silly thing you can do. And unless you're a total psychopath it's really hard to not try to improve, either in your own behaviours or by modifying actions you take as a leader. Those results, the actions you take as a consequence of feedback you've received, are the one thing that ties it all together. Asking for feedback is meaningless if it's just noted, written down and then forgotten. Make sure people feel that what they are sharing actually makes a difference.

Create opportunity, create precedence, and create results. That's what feedback needs to be shared. Safely.