Critique into Coaching

I grew up competing in track and field events from grade school through college. By the time that all wrapped up I had learned a lot, and this week, one of the more important lessons I learned came to the forefront. As an athlete, I put great value on the coaches who could tell me the most about what I did wrong. The more critical the better – it was the only way I was going to get any better. The acumen to critically analyze and dissect issues is not just an asset; it’s a necessity in coaching (a.k.a. leadership) roles. Studies have shown that individuals who quickly find risk, express negative opinions or critical viewpoints are often perceived as more intelligent. However, there is a significant caveat to this perception when it comes to being effective as a leader. While a sharp critical sense can distinguish a leader, it is the manner in which these thoughts are conveyed that ultimately determines their effectiveness and influence. Continuing with the track coach story, what made me open to and seek out a coach’s critical feedback was my confidence that their feedback was 100% motivated by their concern for me and their interest in my success.

One task for leaders is to identify problems and articulate the issues in clear terms. At the same time, it’s about inspiring people by communicating issues as gaps to a shared vision, motivating teams to strive for excellence, and instilling a sense of purpose and achievement. The real challenge—and indeed the art of leadership—lies in harnessing one’s analytical strengths as an antecedent to vision casting.

The Pitfall of Negativity

Evidence abounds that leaders who primarily focus on criticism without offering a constructive path forward struggle to win the hearts and minds of their teams. The reason is simple: criticism, without the balance of encouragement and positive reinforcement, leads to a dispirited and disengaged team. It fosters an environment of fear and compliance, rather than one of enthusiasm, risk taking and commitment.

The Power of Positive Communication

As a leader, your ability to dissect complex issues is undoubtedly a superpower – and probably why you are in your role. However, this power multiplies exponentially when filtered through a lens of positivity. When critiques are presented not as final judgments but as barriers to greater achievements, they inspire rather than discourage.

Consider framing challenges as opportunities for growth. For instance, instead of only pointing out the failure in meeting sales targets, you could highlight your assessment of potential reasons and engage the team in the assessment as well as asking for innovative strategies to boost future sales. This approach not only maintains morale but actively engages your team in problem-solving, making them part of the journey towards improvement.

Crafting a Vision that Inspires

An effective leader doesn’t just share a vision; they also never look the other way when a problem arises. Effective leaders make it a shared endeavor. This involves communicating in a way that looks reality in the eye, connects team members to the bigger picture, showing each team member how their efforts contribute to the overall success of the organization. By turning critical assessment into constructive information, you help your team see the ‘why’ behind their actions and the ‘how’ they can improve.

Embracing Empathy and Gratitude

Leadership also involves empathy and gratitude. Recognizing the efforts of your team, appreciating their hard work, and understanding their challenges will foster a culture of mutual respect and loyalty. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator, often more so than any form of criticism.


Your critical and analytical skills as a leader are invaluable. Yet, a measure of your leadership is not just what you perceive, but what you get done. This is easier when you inspire those around you with your insights. By channeling your critiques into positive, visionary leadership, you create an environment where motivation thrives, and challenges are met with enthusiasm and innovation. Imagine your team members coming to you at the end of a day asking for feedback.

In the end, the goal is to not only lead with greatness but to inspire greatness. This transformation from critic to coach is not just beneficial; it’s essential for any leader aiming to make a lasting impact. And, by the way the best track coaching I ever got was from my javelin coach, who told me the biggest flaw he saw was that I was way too close to the javelin when it landed.

About the Author

Paul Doyle
Paul Doyle is the founder of LeaderWork. He brings more than 35 years of diverse business experience, including 15 years as a CEO, leading manufacturing companies. Paul has been active in North America with companies ranging from $20 million to $450 million in revenue.