In my experience, far too many leaders take the lazy route when giving positive or constructive feedback.  On the positive feedback side, I have seen many leaders give too much praise without specifics; then they lose credibility because others don’t see the value in what is being praised. On the constructive feedback side, I have seen leaders who give up on team members quickly, without giving them feedback and just watch those team members languish until they quit or are let go. I have seen leaders give feedback in such a negative way that the team members lose confidence in their ability and decline instead.  


However, I have also been blessed to learn from very special leaders like Nelson Schwab and Jack Herschend who give feedback that is honest, timely, on point, and incredibly helpful.  Here are a few things I learned from them:


Giving Positive Praise:


Make it timely – Your days are busy and your to do list is long, but you have to realize that delivering praise can’t be put on the backburner or left to rot at the bottom of your to do list. You’re going to lessen the impact of the praise if you wait too long. Recognize employees right after the accomplishment, give credit where credit is due, and if something prevents timely praise, add a reminder to your calendar to deliver it.


Get specific – Simply saying “good job” isn’t enough. You need to tell the employee what he or she did to warrant the praise. That will show the employee you are invested in his or her performance. You aren’t just praising the employee for the sake of giving praise. You’re giving praise for a specific reason so they can hone that skill even further.   


Make Sure the Praise is Genuine – Never make it seem as if praise is just another item on your to do list. When you give praise, it needs to be genuine and heartfelt, or it won’t have an impact. Show that you’re truly paying attention to the details when giving praise.  


Giving Constructive Feedback: When team members make mistakes or could do better, we must address the shortcomings and hopefully recognize the opportunity for improvement. (Keep in mind, we are not discussing major breaches in policies.) Here are five things to remember when helping someone improve:


Admonish In Private.  I have always tried to live by this: praise in public and admonish in private. Everyone makes mistakes, even you! Remember, you have encouraged your team to take some risks and you’ve worked to build a culture of trust. When a mistake is made, find the right time and place to address it. Perhaps you need to gather more information, or others’ input before addressing your employee. When the time comes, do so in private and with respect.


Be stern but avoid malice.  Don’t mince words on what went well and what did not.  However, always maintain your employee’s dignity by addressing issues, rather than their personality. FInd a way to lead with love even in these more challenging situations.


Be Specific. Your employee stands to gain the most from this part of the process. Ask questions that will help them see what went wrong, what they may have overlooked or underestimated, and how they would do it differently. The takeaway should not be that they were scolded, but rather, the takeaway should be what they can learn from the mistake. 


Get People “Back on the Horse” with Pointed Praise.  End the conversation with a positive and put them right back into the game. Show that you believe in them!  


Move on without a grudge.  Forgive them of their trespass and move forward.  After all, we all make mistakes and we all need to learn in order to improve.  If the lesson is not learned?  Well, that is a topic for another time.  


A final thought, spend the first 20 minutes of your day writing a specific thank you note to 3 different members of your team.  If you do that everyday you will write almost 1,000 hand written notes a year! Think about the impact that could have on your team over many years!  I like to sit down after my quiet time with a cup of coffee when I write my notes. Try it, you’ll be glad you did.


Lead on!!