Last week I was having a conversation with a friend I met while coaching a triathlon with Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training. He told me that he was struggling with providing feedback to one of his employees regarding her work performance, because he was afraid it would damage their working relationship. He had given her some constructive criticism before, and it didn’t go over well.

In my many years of coaching I, too, have had this same experience. Whether it was high school students or adults, there have been times where the people I was coaching were not receptive to certain feedback. I have found that while most people are receptive to feedback on how to throw a fastball better, how to improve a swim stroke, or even how to appropriately interact with officials, they often show much more resistance when it comes to feedback on how to improve something that is a little more personal, such as their job performance.

This recent conversation made me take a closer look at why this happens. Is it the message, the delivery, the recipient, or the deliverer? While it could be a blend of all of the above, I tend to put the obligation on the latter. The ability to effectively give feedback comes down to three Ts: Team, Trust and Take.



This is one that you’ve probably heard before. Are you a leader or a boss? Think of the connotation of the words — when was the last time you heard someone called “bossy” in a positive way? One online dictionary resource says to be a boss is “to order about, especially in an arrogant manner.” Have you ever heard someone titled a “team boss” or “group boss”? It sounds a little strange. Why? Because a “boss” is an individual. A boss is often described as someone who controls an organization, a person who dominates, someone who directs or controls. Does that sound like someone who you want giving you advice?

Let’s talk about a leader. I would bet you have heard of someone with the title of “team leader” or “group leader.” A leader is also defined as the first person through the door, the first to address an issue. They are usually described as being guiding, directing and inspiring. The key is that as a leader, you are part of the team; you’re in it together, striving to achieve the same goals as those you are leading. Providing feedback as a leader means you have to not only identify the areas of improvement, but guide them through making a plan as to how to get better. Leading a horse to water works much better than just telling him he is thirsty. If you show your team that they can be successful and provide some empathy along the way, they will trust you. Leaders build and inspire trust, which is the second “T.”



Trust is critical in the feedback process because as humans, we truly open up to people whom we trust. So how do we build trust? Probably the most obvious is leading by example. Leaders who are in the trenches with their teams and who work through problems together whenever possible build great rapport with their teams. By demonstrating the actions that you expect from your team, you live out your own expectations.

A very simple way to build trust is to be honest. Keep your teams up to speed and don’t mislead them. Share whatever you can, whenever it’s appropriate. If you demonstrate that you trust them, they will feel more comfortable trusting you and your intentions when you provide feedback or direction.

Another key to building trust is consistently working on self-awareness. Nobody is perfect, and no one expects you to be, not even your teams. Admit mistakes, communicate your opportunities and shortcomings, and remain open to other viewpoints.

Part of remaining open to other viewpoints is being an active listener. Although a very simple action, giving your team your undivided attention and listening with empathy is crucial to building trust. Listen to their concerns and act on them and ask for clarification if you aren’t sure of their message. Again, no one expects you to be perfect, but they will expect you to be honest. Since we know we’ll never be a perfect leader, trust is critically driven by the final “T” — take.



The final “T” is the ability to demonstrate that the first two Ts aren’t just lip service. Just as important as trust is the ability to demonstrate that you can not only give, but also take feedback. We have all heard the expression “give and take,” but when it comes to leadership and critical feedback, “take and give” is the name of the game. Part of leading your team by example is to first demonstrate that you can take feedback and act on it before you can give it and expect it to be well received.

Another part of the “take and give” approach is accepting input from your team members on the way you will provide feedback to each of them. Sit down with your team and ask them how they prefer to have such messages delivered. Some people like it straight and to-the-point, while others may not be as comfortable with a very direct message. Take in their input through active listening, be self-aware of how you deliver messages, and be honest with yourself and your team about what you need to do to in order to take action on their feedback. Once they see that their opinion matters to you, your opinion will in turn matter to them. Remember, a leader is the first to take action, not the first to direct others to take action.

Feedback is a critical part of building a successful, cohesive team and work environment. Keep things constructive, take the time to develop the three Ts, and always remember that feedback is better received when you live your own expectations and lead by example.    



Among organizations surveyed, 35.7% say their leadership development practices are still below-average or poor.

Source: Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Leadership Development Study

About 41% of organizations recognize the critical importance of defining leadership requirements, yet only 8% have taken the time to define their unique requirements.

Source: Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Leadership Development Study