The Power of Real Time Feedback

How important accurate feedback at the right time can be.

I was recently hiking in the Daniel Boone Forest in Kentucky. The hike was a 5 mile loop, with the two trail heads about a quarter mile from each other. We decided to take the trailhead furthest to the right, which would circle us back to the left, and finish at the other trailhead.

thX2VWC0ZWThe hike took us deep into the forest, with the typical number of switchbacks and elevation changes. Along with the usual insects and spider webs, there were plenty of fascinating things to see, including, a wide variety of different kinds and colors of butterflies, and unusual rock formations. Everything was going well until we came to a stream, which with all the rain, had now become a small river. We could see the trail on the other side (about 20 yards away), and there was only one way to get there – through the water. Plus, we could not tell how deep it was in the middle.

Here is where I had my first encounter with the importance of feedback. Nowhere along the trail was there any kind of mile marker. We had no idea how far we had actually hiked. We sensed a little over 3 miles, so we did not want to turn back. So with only a “guess” about distance already traveled, we plunged ahead through the water. Had we known our distance traveled for sure, we would have been able to decide to proceed or reverse with much more confidence, and perhaps avoided a very wet, messy river crossing. Good information certainly helps produce better decisions.

Probably three quarters of a mile further, we hit another part of the trail which was completely impassable due to falling trees. We knew if we turned back, we would again have to navigate the river, and we were not sure if we could make it before dark. Therefore, we had to go off the trail for some distance, until we could find a place where we could cross a ravine, and hopefully find the original trail again.

And here, the power of feedback hit me once again. After crossing the ravine and finally locating a trail, we set off again, hoping we were back on the proverbial right path. Thankfully, it was not long before we saw the familiar (and oh so welcomed) white diamond on a tree, which was the trail marker for the trail we had been on.  Whew – to say the least! That simple, small piece of plastic provided a huge sense of relief, and a renewed energy to move forward with certainty.  And roughly 30 minutes later, we finally arrived at the end point.

Being in unfamiliar territory, not knowing how far you are from the finish, or whether you are even on the right path creates unnecessary anxiety, whether on a project at work or a trail in the middle of a forest. And too much anxiety is never an attribute found in consistent high performance.

So, be sure you are providing people with the feedback they most need, to keep moving forward with full attention and commitment. Don’t open the door to excessive worry and anxiety, by leaving them hanging about their performance or progress. Your people likely have enough uncertainty in their lives. Help eliminate as much of that as you can with timely, helpful, informative, and descriptive feedback.


  1. Steve-

    At least you had a better outcome than Aron Ralston! I am assuming by saying “we” in your post, you were not alone! A big mistake by Ralston as well as not telling anyone where he was going and when to expect him!

    Your story also reminds of the four things followers what from their leaders from “Strength Based Leadership” – to trust and be trusted, compassion, stability and hope. The foundation of all four of these “needs” relies on constant, regular feedback.

    Carrpe Diem!


  2. Hiking alone in an unknown area usually deserves some pointed feedback, which begins with you and ends in idiot, or something similar. In our case, the best feedback might have been a sign which read “trail impassable 3 miles ahead.” I can sure relate with your comments about trust and hope from this adventure. Be well Dave.

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