Giving Leaders Feedback
Image: Tom Werner | Getty

Giving Leaders Feedback

Five key questions to guide this important conversation.

Every leader needs feedback. When you're developing or evaluating leaders, use these five key questions to measure performance or progress and to identify areas of growth.

Where are we going?

This is a dialogue between two leaders, or between a supervisor and the leader he or she is developing. The question is designed to create mutual agreement on goals, desired outcomes, expectations, and opportunities. In effect it asks, "Are you and I, as a team working together, headed in the same direction and focusing our energies on the same things?"

What is going well?

This question is designed to identify "bright spots." For example ask, "When is this ministry at its best? Describe what is happening when a person or project is doing really well and you see the fruit you're looking for and the actions you hope for."

Rather than spending too much energy on what is broken or troublesome, let's discover what is working, why, and how we can further resource or energize it. Ask, "What are the themes, environments, and conditions that produce the result that we're excited to see?" Or, “Can those conditions be repeated or improved further?

What can improve?

Here we focus on the developmental edge. It requires a learning orientation, a humble spirit, and an attitude that says, "Tell me what I need to do to get better." If these are not present, you likely do not have a leader; you have an arrogant fool.

Discuss areas in which the person is underperforming or has not met expectations and goals. Understand why and work together on next steps for addressing the issue. Make sure both of you are crystal clear about what defines "success" in this process.

And remember to celebrate improvements, corrections, and solved problems, assuring the person, "You did a great job addressing this; now we can move ahead." Always give hope and do not hold failures against anyone. If a person has learned or improved, reward that behavior or result.

How can I help?

Many of us provide performance assessments to show growing leaders how they are doing, and even what needs improvement, but often fail to give them our help along the developmental pathway for growth. Focus on opportunities for growth.

What gifts, talents, and ministry possibilities exist for this leader? What new experience or responsibility or task will help the person grow? Find out specifically how you can help the leader. What does the person need from you: resources, direction, a mentor, feedback, direct involvement, intervention in some process?

Where can I improve?

This question allows the small-group leader to give you, the ministry leader, feedback on how to improve your leadership. It gives him or her a free shot to describe how the relationship can improve, how the process can change, or what attitude or approach would serve best. The dialogue here will be extremely developmental—for both of you! And your leaders will rise up and take on the challenges in the work at hand.

Lead on … and lead well!

—Dr. Bill Donahue, Ph.D., is author of many books, including Leading Life-Changing Small Groups. Article adapted with permission from

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