As a leader, you owe it to those you lead to offer them feedback. Without feedback, development is hampered, as people don’t know what actions to repeat and what actions to tweak. Giving encouragement and accolades is not something leaders dread, but offering feedback that could be perceived as critical is something many leaders struggle with. Yet wise and loving leaders critique because they love those on their teams and long to help them develop.
The goal of a leader’s critique must be to equip and prepare, not crush and demoralize. A leader who critiques haphazardly is likely to harm team members and not help them. Here are five ways to critique without crushing those you lead:
- Check your own motivations.
Before you have a feedback conversation, check your own motivations. Do you want to prove that you are right, that you are smarter? Or do you really want to help the person? Do you want to unload on someone or do you want to develop a person on your team? If you want to blow someone up, just know that you are really offering critique for your sake and not those you lead.
- Affirm what is affirmable.
When giving difficult feedback, be sure to affirm what is affirmable. Be sincere. Don’t affirm something that you don’t really appreciate or value. But if you do not offer any affirmation, you risk crushing the person with the belief that they are doing nothing right at all. If the person is not doing anything well, then just move the person off the team. It is cruel and unloving to leave the person in the role and continually crush him in hopes that he just leaves.
- Be immediate.
A quick way to erode trust on your team is to keep a long list of wrongs. If you store up critical feedback for one long session, you will crush the person, and the team member will always wonder if a new list is being formed. Delayed feedback hampers development, as people are unable to adjust and learn. Real-time feedback helps the person develop and simultaneously builds trust.
- Be specific.
If you just say, “Get better,” “Lead stronger,” or “Here is what I am sensing,” without offering specificity, you crush the person with lack of clarity. Without specificity in a critique, there is no way for the person to adjust. If you only speak in generalities, you crush people with expectations they cannot meet because they don’t even know what the expectations are.
- Dialog on action steps.
A critique should not be a monologue but a dialogue. Work with the person to discuss action items and next steps. Without action steps, the team member leaves your office crushed with uncertainty about what is next. Actions steps provide a sense of closure to the issue and a path forward.