The Gift of Honest Feedback
Leaders have an obligation to provide honest, constructive feedback to help team members improve, even when delivering difficult messages tests their own courage and skills.
Giving honest feedback is the greatest gift any leader can offer a team member. Yet far too often, leaders delay, dilute, or completely avoid sharing candid impressions about poor performance or problematic behaviors. Instead of direct feedback, they engage vague generalities or focus exclusively on the positive.
But honest feedback given kindly is essential to growth. As management guru Peter Drucker reminds us, "The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask."
Leaders owe team members clarity about what they must improve. Without specifics tied to actual examples, individuals lack the insights to course-correct. Imagine a basketball coach telling players “good job” after missed shots. That useless feedback ensures the mistakes continue. In the same vein, leaders must identify poor results or toxic behaviors precisely if they want changes made.
This duty to clarity requires courage. In my early years leading teams, I shied away from delivering direct critiques, fearing hurt feelings or damaged relationships. But in time, I saw how withholding honest assessments stagnated people’s development. I began prioritizing kind candor in all feedback sessions. The transformation was profound. Team members gained self-awareness, strengthened skills, and achieved new levels of excellence. They appreciated knowing exactly how to get better.
One young analyst named Claire (name changed to protect privacy) comes to mind. Her brilliant quantitative skills made her indispensable, yet she needled certain teammates relentlessly. When tensions mounted, I confronted the behavior head-on by praising her intellect but objectively assessing how her sarcastic style damaged relationships and team cohesion.
Initially defensive, she ultimately made meaningful adjustments, even apologizing to colleagues. Months later, Claire thanked me for the clarity which allowed her growth into a more sensitive, emotionally intelligent leader. She recognized honest feedback as an invaluable gift.
As leaders, we shortchange people by avoiding difficult but necessary conversations. Handled with care, insight into deficits becomes rocket fuel for improvement. Let’s follow John Maxwell’s advice to critique thoroughly and praise thoughtfully. Team members deserve our kindness - and our candor. The gift of honest feedback given respectfully but unsparingly might be the greatest gift of all.