Coaching a CEO to come out of his shell and give effective feedback

'Coach Kriengsak, I have a problem with feedback," Damri tells me.

"Khun Damri, how do you know?" I ask him.

"Last week I had a chat with my new personal assistant. She's an open and assertive person, so I asked her informally which aspect of my leadership I needed to improve. She told me I didn't give her any feedback.

"Later that same day, I went out with my chief financial officer to visit our bankers. In the car, I asked her how good my feedback skills were. She was a little reluctant to discuss this with me at first. We've worked well together for several years, but eventually she told me I didn't give her any feedback at all.

"Obviously, I need to learn how to give effective feedback to people."

"Khun Damri, what do you want to learn?"

"First, I want to give more feedback to my people. Second, I want to deliver effective feedback."

"That's good. Let's start with the first topic. How well do you think you're doing in terms of feedback to your people? Let's use a 10-point scale, with 10 as most effective."

"Coach, I'd rate myself at four out of 10."

"What do you want to achieve in the next three months?"

"I want to move to at least a six."

"Okay, that's a reasonable goal. Khun Damri, what holds you back from giving feedback?"

"I don't know."

"OK. Let me try another approach. I have coached you for three months now. How well am I doing?"

He doesn't say anything but just smiles at me. I don't say anything. I take some notes while waiting for him.

"Coach, you're good," he finally says.

"Thank you. Can you tell me more? Be specific."

He smiles again, but no words come out of his mouth.

I make a hand signal for a time-out.

"Khun Damri, let's pause this discussion. It's just role play."

He exhales with great relief.

"Khun Damri, could you recall your experience of a minute ago? What were you thinking when you were silent?"

"Coach, I thought if I told you what I thought, you might not like me if the information were negative. Hence, I decided to not tell you anything."

"Khun Damri, I know this is not an easy exercise for you. I really want to help you. What I will ask you might be a little bit uncomfortable for you. Would you like to play along with me?"

He smiles and nods.

"Okay Khun Damri. What made you think that negative feedback would make me dislike you?"

He thinks. I take some notes while allowing him time to think freely.

"Coach, when I was young, my father told me I must not harm other people with negative words. People will dislike me and seek revenge, he told me.

"My father was a senior civil servant. One day he told his boss that the boss was lousy at leadership. From that day on, the boss was angry with him and tried everything to make sure my father was unsuccessful in his career.

"Ever since those days, I've believed that directing negative words at another person will cause me trouble."

"Do you think this belief is still applicable?" I ask.

"I'm not sure."

"Khun Damri, how did you feel about the information that your assistant and your chief financial officer gave you?"

"I really appreciated it."

"Why?"

"Because it helped me to realise how well (or poorly) I'm doing and will help me to be a better leader."

"Do you plan to take any action against them because of the information they gave you?"

"Of course not!"

He pauses. Finally, his "Eureka!" moment has arrived.

"Now I see! In fact, they were giving me feedback. It was meaningful information to help me to be a better person. Now, I get it!"

"Khun Damri, now that you have a new paradigm for feedback, you will have a tendency to do more of it in the future, won't you?"

He nods.

"When you received feedback, how did your assistant and your chief financial officer talk to you?"

"They told me directly and politely. They didn't judge me or imply I was a bad person. They also told me that without feedback, they didn't know how well they were doing."

"That's good. Let's try to role-play it again. Now you know that feedback is good and also how to do it. Can you give me your feedback on me as a coach?"

"Coach, you listen well. You ask questions at the right time. You don't rush me to answer them. But nobody is perfect, right?"

I nod. "Khun Damri, you're doing great, please continue."

"Coach, you could be a better coach if you were more assertive with me. Sometimes when I was totally wrong, I wanted you to tell me exactly what you thought."

"Thank you, Khun Damri. And congratulations! I think you've learned how to deliver effective feedback."


Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at coachkriengsak@yahoo.com. Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/TheCoachinth. Previous articles are archived at http://thecoach.in.th

About the author

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Writer: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai
Position: Writer