5 Tips for Leaders: How to Give Positive Feedback

Every leadership training program I see has a major segment dedicated to teaching the skills of giving negative feedback to employees. While I agree that leaders need this skill in their toolbox, I believe we are missing the boat by ignoring a powerful skill every leader needs: the ability to spot great performance and provide positive feedback.

According to a recent Harvard research study, the average employee ideally needs 6 positive pieces of feedback for every negative review received. In my experience, this rarely, if ever, happens! We re so quick to pounce on problems, conduct our postmortems ad nauseam, and follow all the techniques to let employees know what they did wrong. But what if we gave as much emphasis to what people are doing right? Imagine the boost in productivity and bottom-line results!

Try the five tips below to kick-start your ability to set up a culture of great performance, and watch employee engagement soar, as you provide powerful, targeted positive feedback that hits the mark and makes a difference!


Provide the feedback immediately, or as close to the event as possible. The sooner the feedback is received, the more impact it has for the employee to be able to relate to it and replicate it.


Describe the behavior you observed as specifically as possible. For example, instead of saying “Great job, Chris!” (which, I’ll admit, is more than most people get from their mangers) try saying something like this: “Wow, Chris! I was really impressed with the way you handled that caller. You listened and allowed him to vent, you heard and identified he specific issue he had, and best of all, you found a way to handle the situation that made him happy without giving away the store! Super job!”  


Share the example with others. By creating a culture where you share examples of great performance, you teach employees how to deliver at an exceptional level. Every now and then you might have an employee who is shy about being recognized in front of their peers, but the more you make it a normal way of doing business, the more comfortable they will all get with it.


Put exceptional feedback in writing, and copy your boss. Everyone likes to have written kudos! By writing a note to your employee with a copy to your boss, you signal your willingness as a leader to share the glory (instead of stealing the credit) — and you telegraph to your boss that you have a successful team! Everyone wins!


Find lots of opportunities to give informal kudos. Spend time connecting with your employees, becoming familiar with how they do what they do. Look for opportunities to let people know they are doing good things — but be sure your comments are always sincere, meaningful, and directly related to the job.

Bonus for positive feedback

When you are in a position to provide rewards for positive performance, give employees a choice as to what their reward will be. A dynamite reward for one employee could be a demotivator for another. (Example: One of my coaching clients shared how he rewarded one of his employees by selecting him to present the successful project in front of the entire Executive Leadership Team of the company. The employee was deathly afraid of public speaking, and very nearly quit as a result of the “reward!”)

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