On Leadership: Great leaders give great feedback

One of the most challenging skills for leaders is giving corrective feedback to others without them becoming defensive or confused, or damaging the relationship.

Pam Solberg-Tapper

One of the most challenging skills for leaders is giving corrective feedback to others without them becoming defensive or confused, or damaging the relationship.

Much has been written about how to provide feedback, especially in delicate situations such as cases of lackluster performance or unproductive behaviors at work. Here some important things to keep in mind for delivering feedback effectively while focusing on the outcome - improvement in performance.

Focus on the "what" not the "who"

This means to make sure the feedback is always about the issue or the problem and its consequences, not about the person. Personalizing the situation is not productive because it takes the focus off the real concern and has the potential to make the other person unnecessarily defensive right from the start.

For example: Say "I'd like to talk with you about the mistake," versus "You made a mistake so let's talk."


Don't wait

The best feedback always comes as close as possible to the event precipitating it. Hold the conversation in private and address concerns head-on by keeping it timely and relevant. Do not store up issues or postpone feedback. Delaying feedback causes it to lose its importance. It also may raise questions about your effectiveness as a leader.

Be specific and succinct

Identify the situation, give precise examples of the behavior and explain its impact. Don't confuse the other person by going on and on.

For example, a leader might tell an employee, "I'd like to talk to you about the report that you submitted yesterday. I noticed that it had several errors. The impact is that it gives incorrect data to the accounting department. As a result, we incur billing errors which affects our customer service."

Solicit their point of view

Let them explain the situation from their perspective. When you do this, it's a good idea to ask some probing questions to make sure you are seeing the situation clearly.

Some good questions to ask include: "What are your thoughts about the situation?" or "What is your account of what happened?"


By creating this dialog, you may be surprised to find that the other person has information you didn't know that could change your understanding of the circumstances.

Work together on improvement

Your role as a leader should always be to help the other person come up with ways that they can improve. To get their buy-in, ask them for their solutions. Work on developing a specific plan with them to improve future outcomes. Schedule update meetings to enhance their accountability and commitment. Be sure to offer praise when improvements are made. But if no progress is evident, you'll need to the discuss next steps and consequences.

By using these guidelines, you will be able to provide feedback that is valuable, constructive and productive to get better results. In addition, developing these leadership skills will prepare you for future problems that may need to be addressed.

Pam Solberg-Tapper, president of Coach for Success Inc., is a Duluth-based executive coach, professional speaker and adventure marathoner. For questions or to submit questions or ideas for future columns, please contact her at or (218) 729-0772.

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