How Do I Give Feedback to My People?

You’ve made it into a leadership position. You are finally a manager! You take the new job seriously, knowing that the responsibilities include meeting strategic goals, managing budgets, and making presentations to senior management. Those challenges are daunting, but you feel well prepared, due to your background, education, and business experience.

And yet there is one area with which you are uncomfortable – the ability to give feedback to the women and men on your team!

While your formal education likely focused on balance sheets, corporate finance, and strategic planning, the idea of giving meaningful perceptions about professional growth to others was likely not formalized – and it was probably left to your own devices and experience.

Many clients with whom I have worked were not provided much in the way of meaningful, timely feedback or instructions on how to do it. For some, even if it was taught, such training was limited, and for most individuals, regrettably, it was a bit of an afterthought.

I recently worked with a client who was working hard to figure out how to provide performance expectations to one of his team members. The subordinate had a desire to learn and excellent work ethic, but there were areas where my client felt as if the client had stalled in his growth trajectory.

“What have you told him about your expectations?”  I asked my client during the session.

My client looked at me for a long second and then said, “Well, I didn’t really know what to say, because I’m afraid I’ll hurt his feelings.”

“Well, how does he react when you praise him for the work he’s accomplished?” I added.

“That’s not something I’ve ever done – I figure he knows when he’s doing a good job. After all, I’ve been in this business for 20 years and no one has ever given me positive feedback for my contributions.”

We spent some time talking about my client’s experience and his desire to be intentional about feedback. We talked about the annual performance appraisal which was a source of discomfort for both the leaders and the subordinates at his company. There is significant literature on this subject.

Many executives are uncomfortable with just sitting down and talking with someone about how they are performing and how they can grow as professionals. Perhaps it is because our organizational focus is so often on strategy and measurable business goals. Often, leaders feel as if personal growth will occur as a result of achieving results.

The ability to sit down with one of your people and join with them on their professional – and yes, personal – journey, is one of those differentiators for leaders. The women and men who can take a few minutes every day and provide an ear, or a perception – they are the rare ones who build relationships a few minutes at a time. They are the masterful leaders whose subordinates are never surprised with the results of a periodic performance review.

I worked with a client one time who tells his subordinates: “You’ve written your own performance appraisal in the hundred conversations we’ve had this year. You’ve explored where you are strong, where you need to grow and you’ve learned as a result – today we get to celebrate that growth and look to the future!”

There are a lot of ways a leader can reach out. One is the gift of oneself.  And that involves working on your own skills of empathy and compassion.

The so-called “soft skills” are really the key to nuancing the concept of leadership. If you can connect with the members of the team and help them grow, then you have demonstrated the ability to grow yourself!

You can learn more about how to provide feedback and your own growth trajectory with executive coaching at Boston Executive Coaches. We stand ready to assist you on your journey!

 This article originally appeared on

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry.