How to Effectively Give Critical Feedback as a Leader
June 11, 2019
The following is adapted from It’s Never Just Business.
Leadership will frequently require giving critical feedback in the form of coaching, and this article will help you get the results you are hoping for from coaching sessions.Pick a team member you feel could improve in some way, but not the problem child.
It’s better to practice on a high performer, someone who gets positive feedback and because of their performance is usually overlooked from a coaching perspective.The first step is to plan the conversation. Take a few minutes to write down the situation, the individual’s current approach, and the impact on the business. Do not make it personal or about the team member’s character; instead, keep the feedback focused on specific actions and impact on the business.
When it comes to logistics, meet with them face-to-face if physically possible. A video conference is okay, and a phone call is a worst-case scenario only.
Let them know you would like to offer some coaching and ask for a good time.
This gives them space to mentally prepare and having a choice helps with the potential fight-or-flight response sometimes associated with critical feedback.
When you get together with the team member, be specific about what you feel they need to do differently or improve. Give specific examples of what you would like to see happen differently and alternatives that they could employ.
Then it’s important to ask them how they feel about the feedback, what they are taking away, and how they might approach the situation next. Then listen actively.
They will undoubtedly want to explain why they did it the way they did. You will have to fight the urge to have them focus on the way forward instead of their past actions.
Listen and let them process the feedback in their own way. If they start explaining why they did it how they did, make a charitable assumption and don’t jump to the conclusion that they’re justifying their actions and pushing back on your coaching.
Listen, ask questions to understand, and restate your understanding.
If they don’t move forward and process your coaching, you can move them forward. They’ll let you because they know you understand their past actions.
Two things to remember about this exercise.
First, if this process of providing critical feedback is different from the approach you’ve used in the past, it won’t feel natural and might not go smoothly. Despite that, keep practicing and you will get more comfortable and achieve better results over time.
Second, leaders give critical feedback and provide coaching because we believe there is a gap between what our business needs to succeed and the results we are getting from specific team members. When this gap occurs, it is our job to fill the vacuum as quickly as possible or our business will stall and the other team members will suffer.
We don’t give critical feedback because we think it’s fun!
If, after following these steps over the course of several feedback sessions, you have a team member that continues to refuse the feedback and adjust, it’s not you, it’s them.
You have done everything you are responsible for as a leader by attempting to provide them with the feedback that they need to thrive in the most productive way.
If this happens, help the team member move on to an organization where they’ll thrive, and fill the vacuum with someone you believe will be wildly successful in the role.
For more advice on giving critical feedback, you can find It’s Never Just Business on Amazon.
From the start of his career spent jumping out of helicopters as a Rescue Swimmer in the United States Navy, J. Scott has a long history of leadership, servanthood, and bearing witness to the transformative power of getting shit done. Since starting 120VC he's personally overseen the global transformational efforts within organizations such as DirecTV, Trader Joe's, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Mattel, and others. His team's unique, irreverent approach to change has generated breakthrough results and created meaningful jobs. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, J. Scott is a devoted husband and father and author of "It's Never Just Business: It's About People," and "The Irreverent Guide to Project Management," both available on Amazon.com.