The highest craft of leadership is acting as a Coach to your Team Members. One of the most effective tools supporting us in this task is FEEDBACK. How to give Feedback in a way that enables behavioral change and personal development is the topic of this article.

There are two preconditions to the kind of feedback I want to discuss here:

  1. You have to be truly interested in bringing out the best of people
  2. You need to attribute enough time to a.) observe and get to know people and b.) lead such kind of conversations

Feedback the usual way

When I ask participants in my Leadership Trainings how often they use feedback as part of their leadership toolkit, I usually get two different kinds of answer:

  1. Well-prepared Feedback once a year, sometimes twice, depending on whether their employee evaluation takes place once or twice a year. Usually they apply the “Sandwich-Feedback” (the negative part is hidden between two positive slices, like:  “You have strong communication skills. – You are not delivering results in agreed time frames. – You receive a lot of appreciation from your team colleagues.”
  2. Spontaneous Feedback, whenever it seems necessary. It often sounds like “You seem not interested in this project as you haven’t delivered any tangible results so far.” or “Your time management is absolutely inefficient. We are still waiting for your report.”

Both kinds of feedback are ineffective.

The first, because it does not come often enough to foster constant, step-by-step improvement and the nice parts are so nice that the negative parts become lost.

The second, because it comes without the fundament of clear developmental goals and it is unspecific as far as behavior is concerned. So, the addressee does not know what he/she should change in order to perform better. Plus: it contains an individual evaluation which can hurt personal feelings and lead to disengagement.

So what kind of Feedback am I talking about?

It consists of three distinctive steps:


What did you hear?

What did you see?

Leave out all the adjectives that usually would come with the observation. As soon as you label something with specific adjectives (nice, good, effective, …) it’s not an observation anymore. It’s an observation interpreted by YOU. And who knows what means “good, effective, nice” to you?



Only now, you add the kind of impression this behavior made on YOU. By that, you are making clear that it is your personal, individual interpretation of that specific behavior you have observed.



You offer advice, support, ideas; you encourage somebody to go on with what he/she is doing.
You ask for reasons – so you offer our partnership.
It can also be useful to add a few personal thoughts about the situation in order to make clear that you are addressing the topic for a positive reason.


Let’s see two examples:

Example 1: You have a new team member (Generation Y) who does his job in slow motion and is out of the door as soon as the clock strikes 5pm. Seeing this every day, you are getting annoyed and frustrated and at some stage, you tell him:

“Jon, you are totally uninterested in this work, aren’t you? You lack any wish to learn, improve and become a true member of this team! ”

…you could say:

  1. Step 1: “Jon, I have noticed that you get only one thing done in an hour while the rest of the team does two things.”
  2. Step 2: “ That gives me the impression that you lack interest in your work or that you are bored or that you don’t value our team.”
  3. Step 3: “For me it is important that we perform as a team and that nobody stays behind. So I need to know the reason for your behavior which I have to label– from my perspective – as underperformance.”

The difference is that nobody can contradict a pure observation. That means, that you will gain a (silent) “Yes, this is correct” – answer after your first step. Because the observation is correct. The observation of “lack of interest and will to learn and improve” is not an observation but an Impression. In NLP we would say “the map is not the territory”. You NEVER KNOW where a person comes from and you can NEVER JUDGE someone from your own perspective.


Example 2: Your new employee is trying hard to fit into the team by engaging with all members and doing many various things in order to do a good job. You want to encourage that positive energy and dedication.

You say “Mary, you are doing a fantastic job!

This is better than saying nothing. However, if you want to stimulate specific behaviors, you need to be specific, especially because “lump-sum”-appraisal will lose its effect the longer Mary is with your team. At some stage, unspecified appraisal can even be judged as “not interested in me” (because “he/she does not take the time to see what I am really good at and what, on the contrary, I still need to learn”) and have a discouraging effect.

So, in order to encourage people to develop and grow their most successful behaviors, you have to give as precise and specific feedback as you would do with behavior you want to change or eliminate (at least at the work place).

Watch the following video as a quick reminder:

This post is also available in: German