Leadership Takes Courage

“She’s done a great job on all of her performance reviews, but there’s one issue that I still have a problem with. I don’t think she’s ready to be promoted.”

I still remember sitting through another annual promotion meeting where a manager stumbled through this declaration about a person that was working for him. There would be no promotion for someone who clearly had risen above the expectations of all that she had been asked and coached to do. In a group of about 50 people, I spoke up and asked, “And, did you confront her about the issue and coach her throughout the last year to improve on this “issue?” His answer: a sheepish, solemn, “No.”

In this situation, a high potential person was being penalized for the lack of leadership of her manager, who did not have the courage to deliver constructive feedback and coach her to become better in a certain area. How can you improve in an area when you don’t even know it’s a problem? Moreover, how do you trust that the positive feedback you are receiving is real and authentic when the leader you are working for does not have the courage to give you the whole picture about your performance and help you become better?

As a leader, you must communicate and connect with the people that have been entrusted to you. This point is true in business as well as in sports and life. A great coach must deliver both positive and constructive feedback to his or her team. An effective parent uses coaching and teaching techniques to help his or her children mature and develop into productive members of society who fulfill their purpose. Yelling all the time or giving a flippant response of “You’re doing fine” to the question of “How am I doing?” just won’t cut it. We all want and deserve feedback.

A Leader meeting with an employee

For some, giving feedback comes natural to them. For others, it is difficult. As Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and senior lecturer at MIT, says, “This is new work for most experienced managers, many of whom rose to the top because of their decision-making and problem-solving skills, not their skills in mentoring, coaching, and helping others learn.”

Regardless where you fall within this spectrum, it is your responsibility as a leader to communicate with your team and connect in an effective way to help them maximize their potential. As I recently said to a group of athletes who were leaders on their respective teams, “C is for Captain; L is for Leader. Don’t sign up for the position if you can’t handle the pressure!” Be courageous as a leader and utilize the following tips when it comes to giving someone feedback:

  • Be Timely – Some people delay speaking to another person about an issue, because they don’t have the courage to talk to them about it. If you really care about the people you lead, you will deliver constructive feedback as well as positive feedback in a timely manner so that they will always know how they are doing and can work to improve on the areas that need attention.
  • Be Specific – People don’t want vague praise like “You are doing great!” or general performance advice like “Do better!” They want to know details. This is especially true of the millennials who are entering the workplace. As a leader, you cannot assume that people know how they are doing. Catch people doing things right and reaffirm it. For example, giving feedback such as “You did a great job of asking critical follow-up questions in our client meeting” is better than “That was a great meeting.”
  • Be Engaged in the Process – Great leaders are fully engaged and committed to helping the people they lead become the best version of themselves. In order to do this, you must observe their work and communicate with the people you lead. They also must know that you care about them in order to fully receive the feedback that you communicate to them.

Whether it’s your son or daughter, your teammate, or a member of the team you lead, don’t let words go unspoken that would help them become all that they can be. You don’t want to be in a position where they come back to you somewhere down the road and ask: “Why didn’t you tell me about this and help me try to become my best?”


Question: Do you find it easy to give both positive and constructive feedback to others? What is the best advice you have ever received from a mentor? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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