To be a leader who is a “super coach”—one who knows how to get the best out of his or her team and drive them to peak performance—you need to be able to master both forms of the conversation. That means providing both positive and developmental feedback when needed.

In Part 1 of this series, I offered tips and pointers for providing positive feedback. In this article, I will address the flipside: how to deliver developmental feedback to those who need to improve their performance.


Developmental feedback means letting people know when they could have done something more effectively, what they could have done instead and why the alternative would have been better. The goal when delivering developmental feedback is to either help the person or group see how to improve their performance so they can meet their job goals, or build on an already strong performance so they can perform even more effectively.

In part one, we suggested you follow the STAR approach when delivering positive feedback. STAR reminds you to describe:

  • The Situation/Task (ST) the person or group faced, such as a problem, business opportunity, special challenge, or routine task.
  • The person’s or group’s Action (A), such as what they said or did, or failed to say or do, to handle the situation or task.
  • The Result (R), that is, the consequences of what the person or group did.


When delivering effective developmental feedback, you should follow STAR and include:

  • An alternative Action - what the person might have said or done instead.
  • The expected enhanced Result - why the alternative action might have been more effective.

Using STAR/AR as your guide, you will want to make sure your comments are:

  • Specific—When you specifically compare current performance to goals, people can see clearly what adjustments they need to make to ensure success in the future.
  • Timely—You need to give feedback for improvement as soon as possible because:
    • When the details of performance are fresh, you’ll be able to explain exactly what the person did that was less than effective.
    • The person receiving the feedback probably will remember what he or she did and why these actions were less than effective.
    • You’ll help people make adjustments before they face similar situations.
  • Balanced—It’s important to balance developmental feedback with positive feedback to maintain a person’s self-esteem and openness to feedback. Even when someone performed very poorly or made a major mistake, it’s still necessary to balance feedback. In other words, find something the person did well and provide developmental feedback at the same time.
  • About the performance or behavior—Keep the focus there and not on the person or the person’s motives.


Here is an example:

Don’t say: “Jane, when you were teaching Mark to operate the system, you told him he just wasn’t ‘getting it.’ He got angry and stopped asking questions. You need to go easier on him.” This feedback doesn’t describe an alternative

Action or the enhanced Result it would achieve.

Instead, say: “Jane, when you were teaching Mark to operate the system(Situation/Task), you told him he just wasn’t ‘getting it’(Action). He got angry and stopped asking questions(Result). A better approach would have been to acknowledge that it’s difficult to operate the system and that his questions are appropriate(Alternative action). That would have maintained his self-esteem and encouraged him to keep trying(enhanced Result).”


Here are some common coaching pitfalls associated with delivering developmental feedback:

Pitfall: Giving vague feedback or feedback you can’t support with data or examples.

If all you can offer is generalities, not specifics:

  • You will seem empty or insincere. Saying “good job” but not supporting it with details makes it seem as if you don’t know what was done or why it was valuable.
  • You increase the likelihood that people will become defensive.
  • You can be seen as asking for too much, especially when you suggest improvements when the person or group is generally doing well.

Pitfall: Saying someone did something well when you don’t believe it.

If you provide positive feedback that you don’t believe:

  • You’ll seem insincere, or worse, dishonest.
  • The person or group might think you’re being manipulative.
  • The person or group might wonder about your real motives for providing the feedback.
  • Your credibility will suffer.

Pitfall: Guessing at motives.

If your feedback is based on assumptions or guesses, you:

  • Can weaken your feedback and give people the impression you’re making excuses for their behavior or performance.
  • Will sound as if you don’t believe what you’re saying.
  • Don’t give enough specific information about what needs to be done differently.

Pitfall: Using words like always and never.

If you use these words in your feedback:

  • You’ll sound like you’re describing a long-standing performance trend.
  • The person or group might get angry with you for not providing the feedback sooner.
  • The person or group will think their general performance, not just performance in a particular situation, is unacceptable.
  • People will become demoralized.

Pitfall: Waiting too long to give developmental feedback.

If you wait too long, the person or group might become:

  • Embarrassed that other people saw there was a problem when they didn’t.
  • Angry because it’s too late to do anything about it.
  • Insulted that you even brought it up. After all, if it was so important, why didn’t you say something when it happened?
  • Resistant to this surprise feedback and not accept it.
  • Frustrated because it will be difficult to remember and discuss the specific details of the situation.

Pitfall: Avoiding giving developmental feedback altogether.

If you don’t balance developmental feedback with positive feedback, the person or group might:

  • Resent it.
  • Begin to doubt their abilities.
  • Become frustrated and demoralized.
  • Feel as if they can’t do anything right.
  • Be afraid of making more mistakes.

Pitfall: Giving only positive feedback.

If you don’t balance positive feedback with developmental feedback, the person or group might:

  • Miss opportunities to become even better.
  • Think you’re being dishonest.
  • Become overconfident and, as a result, make mistakes.


Applying the STAR/AR approach can help you avoid these pitfalls. But mastery of coaching skills—knowing how and when to use them—requires one critical thing: practice. No leader becomes a super coach overnight and no leader improves his or her skills without practice.

If you want to be a super coach, the pointers provided can help put you on the right path. Apply them diligently and repeatedly, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the coach—and leader—you really want to be and your organization needs.

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