psychological safety

Political Statements Undermine Psychological Safety

CEOs, wanting to appear decisive, damage psychological safety by speaking too quickly.

Shut your mouth if you want people to speak their minds. CEOs, wanting to appear decisive, damage psychological safety by speaking too quickly.

Why It Matters

People must believe they’ll be heard and treated respectfully before they disagree with you or a colleague, offer fresh ideas, or try new things.

Stating your preferences upfront chills conversation and invites band wagoning. People will keep ideas to themselves — why waste energy when the boss has already voted?

Making statements on contentious social or political issues tells people who believe differently that their views are not welcome.

React quickly to stop bullies from badgering or intimidating others into silence.

By the Numbers

Companies with high psychological safety experience:

  • 27% lower turnover
  • 76% higher engagement
  • 50% more productivity

Your employees experience:

  • 74% less stress
  • 67% willingness to try new things
  • 29% more life satisfaction

Take these steps:

  • Let others offer their views and ideas before you weigh in.
  • Use RAVEN when someone disagrees with you or offers fresh ideas.
  • Enforce mutual respect. Don’t let the self-righteous create a hostile work environment.
  • Don’t comment on political and social issues or make people display symbols. Do reinforce your values.

Suppose mutual respect is a core value, for example. In that case, emphasize that the freedom to disagree agreeably is central to your company’s ability to report bad news quickly, explore fresh ideas and innovate.

Going Deeper into psychological safety

We’re in a workplace crisis. 40% of Americans report that their job harms their mental health. Psychological safety gets dangerously low when people worry that anything they say or write puts them at risk of being scolded. Workplace fear heightens anxiety.

Universities have significant problems. At MIT, for example, over 40 percent of the faculty report self-censoring more today than in 2020. Large publishers increasingly reject books that might stir controversy, fearing another American Dirt fallout. 

CEOs often feel pressure from employees and customers to take a stand on divisive issues. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver over concerns that Georgia’s new voting law would suppress Black voters. Disney waded into Florida politics over the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. CEOs from several companies spoke out against the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade.

Principled arguments exist on most issues, and CEOs have found themselves looking foolish or retracting statements as more facts emerge. Taking one side alienates employees and customers who see the issue from another perspective. You can reaffirm your values and commitment to mutual respect without getting burned on the hot buttons.

P.S. My psychological safety article was so popular that Dr. Mark Goulston and I created the Net Psychological Safety Score so you can assess your organization.

invest time

Aaron Rodgers Shows That Leaders Need to Invest Time in New Subordinates

The best leaders invest time

The best leaders that I have studied create implicit understanding with their new subordinates.

Relying on implicit understanding can damage your organization. Leaders need to take the time to invest in their new subordinates.

It’s as if they can read each other’s minds, anticipate their responses, and be on the same page in the most fluid situations. Implicit understanding powers your organization through volatility and uncertainty.

What happens when people who share implicit understanding split up and new people arrive? 

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the best to have ever played the position. I started being a Packers fan when he got the starting job, and I have loved watching him perform and elevate the team’s performance as a leader. For the past few years, Rodgers and Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams had a unique chemistry that comes from an intuitive understanding of how each other thinks and reacts to situations.

There’s an excellent chance that you have a similar relationship with some of your subordinates, which creates a sense of flow whenever you are together. You know that you can rely on these subordinates to be at the critical points, respond appropriately to challenges, seize opportunities, and bounce forward from setbacks.

Rodgers lost Davante Adams and a few other receivers before the 2022-23 season and gained a crop of talented replacements. As usual, Rodgers did not attend much training camp before the season began. He knows the offense cold.

The result of not investing time

Missing training camp deprived Rodgers and his new receiving corps of the opportunity to build trust and chemistry before the season began. The offense was out of sync as the Packers lost eight of their first twelve games before winning four straight and heading into the final game with a playoff berth on the line.

Rodgers and the offense were off all game, and the Packers lost. Setbacks happen in professional sports, business, and life. While it’s easy to spend time dissecting the reasons for the poor performance in the final game, I go back to the pre-season’s lost opportunity. Had Rodgers invested time as a leader in his new receivers, the Packers would have won a few more of their first twelve games and been a lock for the playoffs.

Why it matters

Intuitively believing that your new subordinates “get it” and get you as well as their predecessors is a standard error for even the most experienced leaders. Confederate general Robert E. Lee made the same mistake with a new corps commander, which cost him at Gettysburg. I remember being frustrated with a new subordinate until I looked in the mirror and recognized that I had not invested as much time building the new relationship as I had with his predecessor.

Performance usually drops when a dynamic leader-subordinate duo splits up because the leader presumes the implicit understanding transfers seamlessly. Disappointment always follows.

You cannot transfer, teach, or scale intuitive relationships and processes. As a leader, you must make expectations as explicit as possible by using commonly understood visuals, terms, and behaviors. By doing so requires you to invest time in developing your relationships and being prepared to shift your behavior to bring out the best in your new subordinates.

Explicit communication is the foundation for implicit understanding.

Forecasts: 2022 and Beyond, for Consultants, Experts, and Leaders


Here’s my 2022 scorecard…… Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday and a prosperous 2023!

1. The Inflation bubble bursts. Due to employee turnover and inflation, small businesses will fail at a historic rate. COVID has decreased tolerance of bad bosses and poor work environments. Inflation rises to 4% if (Build Back Better) BBB fails and 6% if BBB passes, forcing many poorly led, low-margin small businesses to close. High-margin solo and expert businesses will thrive.

I nailed this one, even as the Biden administration said inflation was temporary. Prices rose more sharply than I expected, reaching double digits for the first time since the early 1980s. You were wise to pay off variable-rate loans and increase supplies.

2. Landgrabs. Russia and China seek to time moves against Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively, on signals that President Biden’s health fails. Iran and North Korea will do the same with their nuclear weapons and missile programs. A gulf state reveals its atomic weapons program in response to Iran’s.

Russia moved against Ukraine, and China made provocative moves in the Taiwan Strait. Thankfully, President Biden’s health has remained good.

3. Change for a BitCoin? Countries will begin to adopt crypto as alternate reserve currencies in response to America’s increasing weaponization of the dollar; investors will add crypto to their portfolios to hedge against inflation.

Crypto climbed the year’s first half and then collapsed under the weight of FTX’s catastrophe. China wants the yuan to be a global currency; others have sought the same for the Euro. The dollar will be tough to replace, but the urgency will increase if the U.S. weaponizes currency.

4. Trades strike back. Companies will lose confidence in supply chains that include overseas vendors. Local manufacturing and storage will rebound. Elite snobbery that the only road to a dignified professional life is an expensive 4-year degree will reduce. More people will enter trades and find substantial prosperity, independence, and joy.

Nailed it. This trend will continue.

5. Waking up to Woke. Businesses stop hiring consultants who pedal revenge racism and begin hiring advisors who improve teamwork. The best companies will hold CEOs and line managers responsible for diversity and inclusion; women and non-whites will gain a more significant share of P&L roles.

These trends will continue. Companies and stakeholders benefit by bringing better diversity to boards and c-suites.

6. 280 characters fewer. Trust in conventional news outlets, experts, and punditry will continue declining, forcing at least one primary news channel, newspaper, and social media platform to close. People will turn increasingly to trusted advisers for perspective.

Elon Musk took over Twitter, and the platform is teetering. Meta laid off 10,000 employees.

7. Revenge of the Nerds. Zillow Offers is the tip of the iceberg. Businesses that rely on AI platforms for customer relations and marketing will face significant setbacks because they act as a blunt instrument when customers expect concierge service. Hackers will learn to spoof AI decision-making tools by acting more like humans and luring machine decisions into unproductive corners.

AI tools are getting better. ChatGPT is a breakthrough technology, and Ukraine’s cyber defenses have thwarted Russian attacks. Still, AI is spoofable, and most people can detect bots.

8. AC Anyone? Climate change debates will shift towards alleviating the effects of rising sea levels and warmer temperatures. Wisconsin’s climate by 2040 will be like Tennessee’s in 2010.

No one likes pollution; let’s rally people around cleaning up the environment and practical actions to safeguard people.

9. Rolling Green-outs. Fossil fuels and nuclear power will make a comeback as a reliable base for energy supply. During extreme weather events, cities that rely on renewables face significant power outages. Global predators will intensify cyberattacks against vulnerable power grids.

Europe awoke to Russia’s weaponizing energy; Germany will maintain nuclear power. Russian cyberattacks against Ukrainian power grids have had a temporary effect.

10. The open office is dead. Hybrid workplaces are here to stay. The most innovative companies will create in-office requirements based on need rather than arbitrary percentages. The most talented will seek jobs with those companies.

Nailed it.

11. COVID theater closes. Companies will reduce wasteful activities that do little or nothing to stop the spread of COVID. The major media will reduce COVID-hype. The vaccinated will begin to revolt against COVID-control mandates because the virus is spread overwhelmingly by the unvaccinated and the vaccinated are tired of feeling punished. More businesses will require proof of vaccination or infection within the past six months for entry and employment. Vaccine boosters will be annual as COVID becomes endemic.

Nailed it.

12. Big Red Resurgence. The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team will go to the BIG 10 championship game in 2022.

The college football Huskers broke my heart again.

Coming soon: my 2023 forecasts



Leadership: What Britney Griner’s Prisoner Exchange shows

Leadership: Leaders play favorites, and for many good reasons.

You bring people into your circle that you trust and who provide unique value and exclude others who lack those qualities. Any sensible leader follows this practice.

There’s a difference between this approach and one that only allows people into your inner circle because they look, think, or act as you do. You might enjoy having those people around you because they make you feel good, but tribalism creates blindspots that will damage your organization.

Playing favorites based on bias convinces people that no matter how well they perform, they won’t be recognized and appreciated. That’s why talented people vote with their feet for other companies.

Great leaders consciously include those who look, think, and have significantly different experiences. These leaders help inner circle members find their voice, make sure they are heard, and take action on their input. Gaining diverse perspectives improves decision-making and helps leaders avoid getting high from their own gas. The fabled emperor with no clothes is as much a tale about sycophantic advisors as it is about self-deception.

The best leaders rotate who’s in the inner circle based on their value to the leader and organization.

People who believe they’ll always be favored get lazy and protective of their turf. The result is you get worse advice and higher tension. You’ll find yourself refereeing more disputes and missing invaluable perspectives. You have to bring in the fresh air.

It’s too bad the Biden administration could not secure the release of both Americans in Russian captivity. Leaders make decisions among difficult choices. Griner is pledging her support for Whelan’s release.

Who’s in your inner circle, and what value are they providing?

Feedback is one of the best ways to understand what’s going right and wrong and make accurate adjustments that respond to vital needs. Most leaders and organizations manage feedback poorly, and 360s tend to be poorly designed and worthless.

Respond well to feedback, and your credibility grows substantially. Your credibility diminishes if you respond poorly or act on bad advice.

Giving feedback is one of the essential roles of a leader, but it can be the most uncomfortable.

The best leaders give feedback that heightens productivity; many leaders, however, inadvertently create resentment.

The good news is that there are behaviors you can adopt that increase your credibility in giving, getting, and responding to feedback.

After this live discussion, you will be able to give feedback that increases performance without creating resentment, gain and respond to feedback in ways that boost your credibility and enhance productivity, and learn when to ignore input altogether.

Change; How to deal with its Resistance


Cui Bono — Who Benefits?

Asking “who benefits” is the best way to understand what appears to be strange behavior, which becomes your key to addressing resistance to innovation and change. Those responsible for specific actions are most likely to gain from them.

China’s waning zero-COVID policy is a classic example. Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that high-quality vaccines plus natural immunity while protecting the most vulnerable is the most viable path to harmonizing safety and well-being.

China has access to this information, so why the persistent zero-COVID policy that has damaged the Chinese economy, undermined their citizens’ well-being and disrupted global supply chains?

Who benefits, and what makes them better off? Xi Jinping. Zero-COVID allowed him to create the world’s most sophisticated police state through smartphone apps that track every aspect of people’s lives. Concurrently, he used the crisis to complete his seizure of power, eliminate rivals, and get himself installed as dictator for life. With those objectives secured, he’s using the ongoing protests to pivot from zero-COVID.

Change: How do I apply it?

Asking who benefits and what makes them better off helps you uncover why people resist change and to address it.

“That’s not how we’ve always done it” signals resistance to a new process or idea. People want to avoid leaving their comfort zones, especially if the status quo seems beneficial.

Loud complaining, gaslighting, and sabotage escalate the resistance. Strong-willed people will do their best to make you uncomfortable promoting the change; flying off the handle and creating a groundswell of opposition is their way of convincing you to leave them alone. You undermine your credibility and increase your costs when you tolerate this behavior.

Slow-rolling is the tactic of stalling and hoping the boss either goes away or kills the new idea. Slow-rollers cite the obstacles they are encountering, complain about inadequate resources even when they have enough, and cite higher priorities that require their attention.

The most insidious involves telling the boss what they want to hear while continuing to do what you want. Graduate-level resistance makes you look foolish because everyone thinks you believe the smokescreen.

Most people practicing these tactics are not evil actors. They get comfortable with routines because they use less mental and emotional energy when performing tasks they know well. They may honestly believe that the status quo is the better path. Sometimes that’s the case, but knee-jerk resistance to innovation is a fast track to failure. Familiarity leads to inertia, inertia creates resistance to change, and unwillingness to innovate generates complacency. You can only drift in one direction — downhill. Ask Sears, ToysRUs, and FTX.

There’s a myth about the military that you can order someone to do something, no matter how ridiculous, and they’ll do it. I encountered these forms of resistance on active duty and had to get good at addressing them.

Buy-in is the shortest path to success, and people buy in when they believe they are better off doing so. You need self-interest on your side.

People change their behavior based on three factors: fear that they’ll suffer adverse consequences, interest: they decide that they are better off by changing, or honor: that continued resistance to change will harm others. Historians will recognize these three powerful motives from Thucydides.

Successful leaders find the right levers to pull.

You’re back on track with:

  • Jim, I’ve heard your point of view and given you why I believe innovation is vital to our success. Here are three steps I need you to take to implement the decision. What additional resources or guidance do you need?
  • Susan, I’m considering a new initiative. May I get your views on how this makes you and your team better off and what downsides we need to address?
  • Tony, I know you prefer to continue using the process that you developed. The problem is that no one else uses it, and the company would have to suck down the costs of allowing everyone to do their own thing. Standardizing our processes saves us $ 2 million annually, which we can apply to bonuses and investments in people.   


If you are a veteran coach or consultant, Thursday’s live discussion is for you.

Sales are the heartbeat of your business. I’ll discuss how to gain great clients without feeling pushy or uncomfortable.

After participating in this discussion, you will have the tools to have successful business development calls based on my Gets Me – Gots Me – Helps Me process.

  • Gain action steps so you can execute the process with your prospects.
  • Avoid coming across as pushy or with “sales breath” when you meet people.
  • Differentiate between intro and business calls, so you avoid coming across using bait-and-switch tactics.
  • Stop wasting time and burning bridges trying the crazy tactics you see used (unsuccessfully) on social media.
  • Avoid the colossal waste of time and money on ads and internet marketing.
  • Have business development calls that are comfortable, joyful, and successful.

The discussion starts at 3:30 pm US Central on December 15. I’ll provide 30 minutes of actionable content followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.

Reply to this email for the calendar invitation, or create your own and dial in with this zoom link:

Please share this opportunity with two or three others who would benefit from the discussion.


What the Collapse of FTX tells us about Diversity; and shows Leaders where they can do Better


Samuel Bankman-Fried, by work standards, had a diverse inner circle, but groupthink and lack of perspective sank his company, FTX, and cost people billions. Skin-deep diversity is a fast track to failure.


Diversity, Shallow and Deep

The head of a Milwaukee consulting firm that trains women for participation in corporate governance told an audience last week that having two women on a board of directors leads to better decisions. A (male) spectator noted that the speaker’s board of directors consisted of women only and wondered if the presence of two men would be helpful.

The NASDAQ stock exchange has directed its participating companies to have two diverse board directors, including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+,” or explain to shareholders why they’ve fallen short.

As I’ll discuss below, physical diversity is important for legitimacy. Tokenism is shallow, and so is having the deck stacked against you because of your chromosomes.

FTX’s collapse shows that skin-deep diversity is insufficient, and this HBR study shows why it could damage your company.

Courageous leaders broaden participation and recognize that unisex, monochrome boards lack legitimacy. They surround themselves with people who look and think differently and have different life experiences.

Diversity is an iceberg; what you see above the waterline represents a fraction of its mass. Below the surface lies the iceberg’s bulk. Ignore that and wind up like the Titanic.

Physical diversity — what you can see — is the tip; cognitive and experiential diversity occupy the depths.


Cognitive diversity occurs when you surround yourself with people who think differently. Their natural contributions provide you with alternative capacities. Some are tactical innovators willing to rock the boat, while others build consensus and keep people on board. Big-picture strategists help you solve complex challenges, but somebody’s got to manage the details. My PROM Archetypes® give you a framework for cognitive diversity. You can take the self-assessment here.

Experiential diversity includes education, development, and life experiences that provide perspective. Math and science nerds who’ve lived their entire lives in leafy suburbs, regardless of their chromosomes, are likely to have monochrome views. In contrast, people who might look the same but have varied socio-economic backgrounds, experiences, and education will enrich discussion and decision-making.

You Need All Three

Physical, cognitive, and experiential diversity gives you the capacity for good governance. Without physical diversity, your organization lacks legitimacy in the eyes of your stakeholders. If you don’t have cognitive diversity, you’ll get groupthink. Inadequate experiential diversity undermines the perspective you need to deal with complexity and uncertainty.

FTX had only tip-of-the-iceberg diversity.

Diversity in-depth, combined with a commitment to the common good, creates a board of directors or leadership team that will take your organization to new heights.

Back on Track

  • Our board looks very different than our stakeholders; what perspectives are we missing?
  • We’ve got fantastic ideas, but we keep falling short on execution. Do we have the cognitive diversity we need to be successful?
  • I feel a natural connection with everyone on this all-Ivy-Leaguer board, but we’ve missed the points of view of the people we’re serving.   
  • We agree on everything. When everyone thinks alike, it means that no one is thinking. Let’s bring in the fresh air.

Are you okay with shallow diversity?

Accountability Masterclass

This complementary masterclass on December 7 at 3:30 pm U.S. Central focuses on accountability. By the end of this masterclass, you will be able to:

* Provide feedback that improves performance and reduces awkwardness.

* Use proactive accountability to improve success dramatically.

* Enact a 3-level accountability system that increases buy-in and lowers your burden.

* Avoid common pitfalls that erode accountability and increase tension while leaving you feeling like you are the only one vested in success.

Here is the link to the masterclass on December 7 at 3:30 pm U.S. Central

Share this opportunity with one or two others you think would benefit from the discussion.


By Day 3 of the Fallen Hero Honor Ride, my butt was very sore; Lessons Learned on the Road

Lessons Learned on the Road

I had bicycled nearly 300 miles into stiff headwinds from Hurricane Ian, which heightened the pain and added to my fatigue. It’s not supposed to feel like this.

I was popping ibuprofen and acetaminophen like candy, sitting on bags of ice at night, and considering other ways to reduce the pain.

I was treating the symptoms because I didn’t know the cause.

My coach, Chuck Kyle, did. After a few more days of this, I called him and let him know what I was experiencing. He asked a few follow-up questions and told me my seat was out of alignment. Angle your seat forward 1mm.

What? 1mm?

I trusted my coach, but I could not see how such a small change would make any difference. I made the adjustment, skeptical of the impact.

Yes! This is how it’s supposed to feel!

No more pain. The next 1200 miles felt terrific.

We tend to think proportionally. A small lesson change makes a small impact; a big lesson change makes a big impact. We resist making small changes because we believe they’ll be inconsequential and assume significant changes will be too painful or create massive side effects.

Sound familiar?

This mentality keeps most people stuck in painful ruts or flailing in swamps of frustration.

Here’s the difference: the right small changes to the correct issues have significant impacts and little downside. The key is to affect the causes rather than the symptoms.

I find the 1mm rule also works for good leaders and coaches. The good ones don’t require massive interventions, and the bad ones don’t want help.

The good ones need 1mm adjustments to what’s causing pain and not working quite right. Having the right trusted adviser gets you to identify the cause quickly and make the subtle lesson changes that lead to success.

What if you could take away the nagging aches that bog you down? What would you do with the new time and energy?

  • “I feel drained at the end of each day. How do I stop feeling this way?”
  • “I’ve got more direct reports, and I rarely see them. What should I do to help them without them feeling micromanaged?”
  • “One of my direct reports is resisting the changes we need to make. How do I get them on board?”


Get more action steps about leadership and accountability in these recent podcast interviews:

Conflict management and leadership in Wake-up Call hosted by Mark Goulston.

Gaining buy-inWay of Champions podcast, John O’Sullivan and Jerry Lynch:

Leaders as exemplars in Get Uncomfortable with Shae McMaster:

How to get good at getting better: Getting Down to Business with Shalom Klein.–08142022—Chris-Kolenda–Chris-Kolenda-and-Kimberly-Janson-e1mbu0q

Queen Elizabeth II shows that most assumptions about Leadership are Wrong

Queen Elizabeth II demonstrated that leadership is not about your chromosomes, personality, hardwiring, or credentials. It’s about how you behave. Full stop.

Queen Elizabeth

Hundreds of thousands of Britons lined London streets and countryside thoroughfares leading to Windsor castle. They tossed flowers, offered prayers, and paid respects as Queen Elizabeth II journeyed to her eternal resting place.

They arrived voluntarily. No coercion, no gimmicks. People showed up on their own.

I’ll be on a newsletter hiatus during the Fallen Hero Honor Ride, which begins on September 25th in Spalding, Nebraska, and ends on October 22nd at Arlington National Cemetery.

The journey begins at Chris Pfeifer‘s gravesite fifteen years to the day he died of wounds. His daughter was born two days later. I am grateful that Chris’s parents, widow, and daughter will be there.

The 1700-mile bicycle journey raises funds for the Saber Six Foundation, which supports our 800 paratroopers and their families who need help.

I’ll post updates, leadership insights, and the inevitable hard knocks throughout the journey to help you build resilience, increase your arsenal of good leadership behaviors, and gain healthy doses of laughter, remembrance, and gratitude.

If you’d like to support this cause and receive these updates, please donate any amount that brings you joy. You can use this


What Quiet Quitting and Quiet Firing have in Common

Lazy and unethical is what they have in common.


Quiet quitting is a term making its way around the internet. It refers to employees who stop being productive while drawing a paycheck for as long as possible.

Quiet firing is railroading an employee to quit so that you do not have to pay severance or undergo a 90-day performance review process.

Both practices are lazy and unethical

Look deeper, and you’ll probably find poor leadership at the root of both, too. According to Gallup, two-thirds of American employees reported being unengaged at work. That means they spend most of their time unproductive.

Some of the unproductivity is self-imposed. Most of it relates to unnecessary meetings, poorly thought-out requirements, miscommunication, etc. These are leadership problems.

You hired adults; what if you treated them like adults? Start with the ABCs

  1. Accountability. You need to meet 1-on-1 with each direct report weekly. People need to know that there are consequences for awesome, good, and awful. See this article on proactive accountability.
  2. Buy-in: You cannot demand it or order it on Amazon. You need to earn it. You know you have buy-in when people do what’s right the right way without you having to watch.
  3. Clarity about your common good: mission & vision, goals & values, standards & expectations. Every task you give should include “So That we get [x, y, z] outcomes.”

You’re right back on track with:

  • “Let’s meet for 15 minutes each Monday at 11 am so we can discuss priorities and make sure you are getting the support you need to succeed.”
  • “Joe, I like how you are letting your employees develop their own game plans for these tasks. How can I help you develop them even more?”
  • “I noticed that you’ve had a fifty percent turnover this year. Let’s discuss why that’s happening and what I can do to help you be successful. If this trend continues for the next 90 days, it’s time for you to find a better fit.”


Saber Six Foundation – Fallen Hero Honor Ride

The Fallen Hero Honor Ride is only 15 days away. I’m excited for this 1700-mile bicycle ride to visit the graves of the six paratroopers from my unit who were killed in action in Afghanistan and raise funds for the Saber Six Foundation. Find out more here or at

I need your help. Our Honor Ride Team Champions program is a great way to get involved. You’ll raise support for a great cause, be eligible for awesome prizes (like an African safari), and get exclusive updates throughout the ride.

Are you ready to be a hero for our heroes? Contact me at to find out more.


Get more action steps about leadership and accountability in these recent podcast interviews:

6 Words you Should Never say to your Employees

Can I give you some feedback?


Those six words create anxiety in even the most self-assured and high-performing employees because they know what’s coming next.

The feedback sandwich.

Feedback employees

You hate giving feedback because you don’t want people to feel bad, so you try softening the blow by saying something nice up front and at the end while sandwiching the criticism in the middle.

You: “Joe, can I give you some feedback?”

Joe, cringing, “Uh, sure.”

You: “I liked your presentation. However, slide seven was too complicated; you said um and ‘you know’ way too many times, didn’t handle the third question very well, and seemed tired at the end. Nice work, overall, though.”


That’s a classic feedback sandwich. The empty compliments are like the slices of bread; the criticism is the meat in the middle. No matter how you slice it, it still tastes like sh!t.

You feel better, but Joe’s ready to vote with his feet.

You might think the presentation was good, except for the points you mentioned, but Joe feels your compliments are insincere. You made the standard error of generalized compliments and specific criticisms. It’s easy for Joe to tell where you spent your mental energy and what you think.

It’s even worse because Joe believes you’re attacking him personally. Notice that you gave low-utility criticism. Joe cannot act on any of it. You’ve given him no way to get better.

Sound familiar?

What if you provided balanced, forward-looking feedback?

  1. First, you need a review after every presentation or significant action.
  2. You should provide compliments with the same level of specificity as the criticism.
  3. You must offer high utility: your compliments and criticisms should be actionable.
  4. Focus on action steps to sustain what’s awesome and improve what’s not.

You’re right back on track with:

  • “Let’s have our normal review.”
  • “Joe, slides 1-6 were terrific — tight, clear, and focused. Slide 7 was difficult to understand. In what ways can you make slide seven more like slides 1-6?”
  • “You nailed questions 1, 2, and 4 with specific answers backed up by data. What caught you off guard about question 3? What can I do to help you prepare for those big-picture questions?”

You get the idea. Your feedback (or feed-forward) needs to focus on improvement, not criticism. Joe needs to know you’ve got his back and want him to be successful.


Get more action steps about leadership and accountability in these recent podcast interviews:

Conflict management and leadership in Wake-up Call hosted by Mark Goulston.

Gaining buy-inModern Leadership hosted by Jake Carlson:

Leaders as exemplars in Get Uncomfortable with Shae McMaster:

How to get good at getting better: Getting Down to Business with Shalom Klein.–08142022—Chris-Kolenda–Chris-Kolenda-and-Kimberly-Janson-e1mbu0q