The Gift of Critical Feedback

A few years back I was playing golf with a client of mine and a banker of his. As usual, the typical old golf banter was exchanged in between serious business discussions. During one such business discussion my client said something that, quite honestly, only he could say. I looked at him and bluntly pointed out that he had his head so far up a very dark place that I was surprised he was able to pull out that answer!


My client laughed and shrugged his shoulders and as I looked back at the banker, his face was one of pure shock. He said to me, "Aren't you his coach? Aren't you supposed to keep him positive?” I smiled back at the banker and kindly replied that our friend, the executive, has plenty of people who tell him every day how right he is. My job is to make sure he actually is.


I have one of the best jobs in the world working for highly paid, intelligent, motivated, well assured, successful executives. These professionals want to know what they need to do in order to be better leaders. It's certainly not always an easy conversation and we don't always agree, but they listen because they know the only reason I get in their faces is to assist them in reaching the highest level of leadership! It’s through this mutual focus on their success that we create a bond that is both respectful and purposeful.


It reminds me of this great football coach I grew up watching and reading about and his take on success. Upon reflection, it represents the work my clients and I do together:


“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
~Vince Lombardi


As a business leader you are also a coach and you have people who report to you that deserve your focus on their success. So how often do you give them the critical feedback that will help them get to the next level? The truth is that even if you are right most of the time, you won't reach the level of success you desire unless you have lots of folks that work for you that are also right most of the time. Remember, being a good coach does not mean you are a cheerleader but rather a good coach has a singular focus on the success of his team. The work and the feedback will not stop until the goals are accomplished and even then there is always the next goal!


How often, when you are at your computer working on annual reviews for your direct reports, have you edited the feedback you need to give them? You hesitate because your feedback will be in their records and/or impact the level of their merit pay. Or let’s say you are so busy grinding your own wheel of success that feedback is non-existent and why spend time giving feedback when you can just fill in the performance gaps yourself?


The hardest part about these excuses is one day the light will go on in your head and you will realize that you can't achieve or sustain the level of success you desire without a highly functional team. The problem is you have been feeding them BS for years and they believe that they are at peak performance and if you tell them the truth now you will have a mutiny on your hands!! Well my friend, I remember reading somewhere "as we sow, so shall we reap" and boy does this lack of critical feedback sow poor results.

So if you are looking for relationships with your direct reports that are respectful and purposeful, I suggest you invest some time into your success and theirs by giving the gift of critical feedback.


If not for yourself, then do it for Vince!




My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.


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Categories: Executive Coaching, Leadership | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to The Gift of Critical Feedback

  1. Barb Woods says:

    I've always known you are a gifted thinker–but I didn't know that a gifted writer lurked inside.  This insightful piece shows both!  You so clearly point how how leaders can confuse coaching with cheerleading–and this happens at all levels of management/leadership.

  2. This really was a pleasure to read and it really made me think deeply about how damaging it is when we sugarcoat what we really want to say to someone that we care about. I'm not talking about giving people false compliments on how nice your friend looks in her new dress, but rather to give thoughtful, critical feedback to someone who asks your opinion. Sometimes your opinion is unsolicited, and other times it's asked for. The more I think about it, the times that were most rewarding was when I pushed the envelope and spoke freely about how something should be done when I felt really passionate about it.  Fortunately, each time I did this it was well received and even lauded, because I didn't play the part of the yes-man.  I think the key is doing it with

    class and maybe even a private setting, allowing that person to keep their dignity and yet still benefit from your expertise.  


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