logo image

ATD Blog

Feedback Is Crucial to Coaching


Wed Mar 06 2019

Feedback Is Crucial to Coaching

We know from research and from our personal experience that the leadership styles a leader chooses to use have a direct impact on what it feels like to work in that organization—the organizational climate. Think about your best and worst bosses: It felt different to work for each of them, and they likely used very different leadership styles.

One of the leadership styles that we know from research has a positive impact on an organization and the results it achieves is a coaching style. Given that, positioning managers as coaches has become very popular. One question to consider is how to best develop managers to use a coaching approach.


The International Coach Federation (ICF) identifies many coaching skills, and among the most foundational is listening. You likely know what active listening looks like: making eye contact, using body language to indicate listening, and asking follow-up questions. What fascinates me about listening is that while it is sometimes about knowing what to do, it’s often about not doing it.

I remember early in my relationship with my husband, he gave me some valuable feedback I’ll never forget. We were having a conversation about something fairly important and I was typing on my laptop as he was sharing his feelings (you can already see where this is going). My husband stopped mid-sentence and said, “Babe, I know you have the ability to multitask, but when you’re not giving me your full attention, it feels like you’re not really listening to me.” Ouch! I felt terrible. I already knew how to listen; I just wasn’t doing it. In his gift of feedback, my husband let me know how I was coming across and the impact it had on him. If we can give people our undivided attention—be truly present, be open, be curious, and leave our judgments and assumptions out of the conversation—listening to someone becomes easier than we think.

Developing your managers to be able to use a coaching approach is about imparting knowledge and offering feedback and encouraging self-reflection about how they are implementing those skills. This post will focus on feedback.


I do an activity in my Exploring Leadership class where we list the characteristics of good leaders. I then ask participants what kind of score they would give themselves on those characteristics on a scale of one (low) to 10 (high). Keeping with our theme of listening, what would you give yourself on a scale of one to 10? Some of us are much harder on ourselves than others, so you might give yourself a four on listening. Others of us think we’re doing a pretty good job, so if you’re one of those folks, you might give yourself a nine on listening.

My next question is, “How do you know?” Say you give yourself a four on listening and you decide to ask someone you trust for their opinion. They might say, “Four? I think you’re a really good listener, I’d give you an eight.” So there you are being overly hard on yourself, potentially using up time and energy taking classes and reading books on getting better at listening. The flip side is equally undesirable. Say you give yourself a nine at listening. If you were to ask someone you trust for their opinion, they might say, “Nine? Hmm, I’d give you a five or six.” (And that might be high, as they’ve tried to tell you things for years and you haven’t been listening.)


That’s why getting feedback on your listening skills—or, frankly, anything—is so important. You don’t want to waste time and energy working hard on getting better at something you’re already good at, and you don’t want to be in a position of having a problem you don’t know about because you can’t solve a problem you don’t know you have.

Among my favorite ways to get feedback is the start, stop, and continue model. Share with someone you trust that you would like to get better at \_\_\_\_\_\_ (fill in the blank). For our purposes, let’s say you’d like to get better at listening. Then ask them three questions:

  1. What is one thing I can start doing to be better at listening?

  2. What is one thing I can stop doing to be better at listening?

  3. What is one thing I can continue to do to be good at listening? (The assumption being that you’re already doing something well, so you want to know what to keep doing.)

The start, stop, and continue model is an incredibly powerful way to learn about how you’re coming across to others.

Want to learn more? Join me for LearnNow: Developing the High-Performance Manager. This two-day workshop uses the ACCEL framework to teach managers the fundamentals of effective leadership, including accountability, communication, collaboration, engagement, and listening and assessing.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In


Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy