Consitency, Leaders

How Leaders Should Give Criticism

How Leaders Should Give Criticism

The assumption is that giving criticism is easy.  Some even enjoy criticizing others and they do it regularly.  However, as a leader, giving criticism may be something that is utterly dreadful.  How leaders should give criticism to their members directly affect progress and success.  Not done properly can leave the individual demoralized and ineffective.  Done correctly and you can have a happy member who will be more motivated to improve.  In this situation, how leaders should give criticism is greatly important and impactful to the success of the leader, the individual, the team and the entire future success of the organization.

People give criticism for many different reasons.  Some give criticism only when needed and with the intent to help make improvements.  Others do so for malicious reasons.  You read more on what are the common reasons people criticize here.  Leaders, however, should have a more focused and precise reason to give criticism.  You as a leader should only give criticism with the intent to teach and help improve your team member. 

There’s a technique that many use when giving criticism call the “managerial sandwich”.  This is when you start the criticism with some type of positive comment, the bottom slice of bread in the sandwich.  Then you give the criticism, which would be the meat of the sandwich.  Finally, you finish off with another positive comment or a complement, the top slice of bread to finish off the sandwich.  This is something that is commonly used because it soften the blow to the individual receiving the criticism.  You can read more on this technique here.  I bring this technique up because I think it’s used too much and the focus is wrong.  The focus is too much on the bread and not enough on the meat.  In order to make it easier for both parties, the concentration is on the positive comments and the criticism is tip toed around.

Giving criticism for a leader isn’t easy nor is it enjoyable.  But it should be done correctly otherwise it defeats the purpose and no one really gains anything from it.  If you spend too effort focusing on the positive comments, you’re doing yourself and your team member a disservice.  You are avoiding conflicts and in the process your message are lost.  The real focus of the feedback should be on the meat, the actual criticism.  The following are some guidelines on how you can give focus to the meat of the criticism and make the entire process a fruitful one for all parties involved. 

  • Not in public – One of the most important rule as a leader is to never embarrass your employees. Regardless of your intentions, it’s never the right decision to embarrass anyone, particularly your employees.  When giving criticism, make sure it’s in a private setting.  The criticism is only for the person needing it.  Not for anyone else.

  • Don’t ambush – The person you’re going to give criticism to should not be caught off guard. Which means you should not be giving indication that all is well and that their work is great.  Then surprise them with criticism that their work needs improvements.  This is unfair to them and sends contradictory messages.  You must practice consistency in your messaging.  You can read more about consistency in my article How To Be Consistent here.

  • Be specific – I mentioned earlier that people sometimes dance around the issue when giving criticism. They’re uncomfortable to say it bluntly and address the issue.  But doing so may confuse the issue and the message.  When giving criticism, just be direct.  Express exactly what the issue is and how it can be improved.  You’re not being mean or hurtful when being direct.  You’re being helpful, so you need not feel bad about it.  But make sure that your intentions are to help and to improve.

  • Never attack – The approach you use to give criticism to your team member should never be aggressive. They should never feel like they’re being attacked.  If they do, they become defensive and your message, however well intent, doesn’t get through.  Come with an approach of helping and supporting and your message will be received much easier.

  • Be constructive – Criticism should always be constructive. Giving constructive criticism is to allow the individual to grow and to further their skills.  You want to be constructive and not destructive.  So make sure your criticism includes suggestions for improvements.  It can’t just be negative statements.

  • Engaging conversation – When giving your criticism, allow your member to give their side of the story. Allow them to explain why they did what they did and justify why they thought it was a good idea.  It should not be one sided so make it engaging.  You might end up learning something yourself.

  • OK to be Positive – I had discussed earlier about how using the managerial sandwich technique, many managers gives focus too much on the bread and not the meat. They focus too much on giving positive comments and the actual criticism message is unclear.  That doesn’t mean that we should only focus on the meat and forget the bread.  It’s ok to be positive, and even necessary.  However, make sure that the criticism message is the focal point and the positivity can be used to promote the message.  Not replace it.

Leaders giving criticism isn’t as simple and easy as many may assume.  A good leader will carefully consider the criticism needing to be given.  How the leader should be giving the criticism is very important.  Doing it wrong and with the wrong intent will be devastating to the individual, the relationship and the future success for everyone.  Giving criticism constructively and allowing your team to grow will set the stage for sustainable success.


Photo by: Yanalya

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