Ken Blanchard called feedback the “breakfast of champions,” and rightfully so, because we all need feedback in order to grow and develop to our fullest potential. When done properly, coaching those on your team and giving them quality feedback is one of the highest return uses of your time; however, when it comes to giving feedback, many leaders today are more of a critic than they are a coach. They point out what’s wrong without offering the individual any coaching that would allow them to adjust and bring better performance day in and day out.


Criticism without coaching doesn’t elevate people – it frustrates people. What follows are some key principles of coaching, and some steps to make sure you’re the coach your people deserve, and not just a critic of them. But first, let’s first define and recognize what it means to be a critic, and what it means to be a coach, so you can better assess your style of giving feedback.


A critic is defined as “one who expresses displeasure or an unfavorable opinion about someone or something.” Simply put, criticism without coaching is merely expressing displeasure and leaving it at that – not exactly the balanced feedback “breakfast” necessary to grow, develop, and invest in the people on our team.


A coach on the other hand is defined as “someone who gives private teaching, a trainer or coach.” Make no mistake, a coach will also express displeasure concerning poor behaviors or performance, but the difference is that he or she will also provide instruction on how to improve.


With a better understanding of what it means to be a critic, and a coach, let’s look further at the differences between them.


1. To improve performance, a coach will provide feedback concerning poor performance, and immediately follow it up by redefining a performance expectation.

The coach will do this both conversationally and sincerely, without getting personal, profane, loud, or reminding the offender of their past flaws and faults as the critic does.

2. To improve performance a good coach will show the person what good performance looks like if necessary.

By redefining the performance expectation with the individual, you’re setting the standard. By modeling and demonstrating the good performance that you’re looking for, you’re setting the example.

3. To further reinforce his or her point, the coach will explain why it’s important to perform the task or duty in the manner prescribed.


A great demonstration of what you’re looking for, by itself, is not enough to help coach the individual to greater levels of performance. This is why the best leaders in any field explain the “why” behind it. They understand that people are more likely to apply the “how,” and live with the “what,” if they first understand the “why.”


4. To test the individual’s comprehension of the feedback and the example demonstrated, a coach will ask the person to perform the task again to demonstrate their understanding of the proper technique.


The only way you can know for sure that people get it is to test them, and let them show you that they’ve got it.


5. If the person requires further training to be able to perform the task or create the desired outcome, the coach will provide the resources necessary to support the person.


Strong cultures understand that talent doesn’t arrive fully developed, and that a ferocious dedication must be made to training, coaching, and mentoring employees. Identifying and resourcing a team member’s growth by providing tools, experience, mentors, training or additional practice are key ways the coach supports and helps build the skillset necessary for the person to perform well.


6. Once the performance improves a coach will reinforce the change or improved behavior.

This is because behaviors that are reinforced and rewarded are more likely to be repeated. But remember, the longer you wait to reinforce the behavior, the less impact it has. Reinforce often and quickly when you’re trying to influence behavioral and performance changes.

7. If necessary, the coach will establish consequences for the performer if the poor behavior or performance continues.

If you want to change a behavior, you must change the consequence for that behavior. As the saying goes, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

8. Even when establishing consequences, a good coach will affirm belief in the performer and his or her ability.

This is because the coach understands the consequence being established is something they’re doing FOR the person, not TO the person, as the sole objective of a consequence is to improve performance.

In summary, a critic is good at finding and pointing out faults or flaws; and, while a coach does likewise, his or her primary objective is to create the structure and tools necessary to eliminate the flaws. The coach is not just a “finder” but a “fixer.”


With these points in mind, are you more of a critic or a coach? If you were to randomly survey team members on your coaching and feedback abilities would they agree? If not, or if you’re unsure, the good news is that you can fix that by bringing more focus to applying the principles shared here, and adding value to your people, so they in turn can add more value to the organization.


As a parting thought, if you have good people who are being hamstrung by criticism without coaching, don’t expect them to endure or stay in your ranks for long. They won’t put up with the abuse, nor should they, making it all the more important that you step up and be the coach they deserve – and that you not wait until it’s too late to do so.

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