Giving Leaders Feedback

Giving Leaders Feedback

Six key questions for an important conversation

Every leader needs feedback. It's painful to work in ministry or business for an extended period of time without getting an idea of how you're doing, how the organization or leadership team perceives your performance, and what you can do to grow and take on greater responsibilities. When you're developing or evaluating leaders, use these six key questions to measure performance or progress and to identify areas of growth.

1. 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?"

2. Where are you and your team going? This requires the emerging leader to be clear about his or her leadership of the team, the team's progress, and how they complete their tasks and responsibilities. As the leader responds, you can assess whether the team is aligned with the goals and vision of the overall organization (church, university, seminary, group, team).

3. What is going well? Along the lines of the book Switch, this is designed to identify "bright spots." I am working through this exercise with an organization's leadership team, asking representative constituent groups, "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?" Can those conditions be repeated or improved further?

4. 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.

5. 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, ministry possibilities, and business opportunities 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, more people, a mentor, feedback, direct involvement, intervention in some process?

6. Where can I improve? This allows the person to give you, the developer, feedback on how to improve your leadership or management. 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. "It would be helpful if you asked more questions before jumping to conclusions." "It would help me if you would follow up sooner with me if I'm off track. I worked on this for two weeks before you let me know I was headed in the wrong direction." It could be simple, like "Can we meet for 15 minutes instead of an hour, but meet more frequently?" or "Can you continue advocating for me and my department with the boss? I appreciate him/her knowing what we are doing in our area."

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 excerpted with permission from

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