Provision #272: Tell The Truth

Laser Provision


Our first strategy for success in this Provision series comes from Coach K at Duke University. Tell the truth. In good times and bad, giving yourself as well as other people honest feedback with positive regard is the secret to achieving consistent success.

LifeTrek Provision


Before we get into this week’s Provision, I wish our readers in the United States a happy Labor Day weekend. For many of us, “work” has the connotation of “chore” • something we have to do but don’t really want to do. This Labor Day weekend I invite all of us to redefine work in more positive and appreciative ways. What a blessing to have something constructive to do! I’m sure we can all find ways to learn from and enjoy our work more.

That may actually be a good introduction to this week’s Provision, “Tell The Truth.” Today we start the first of ten success lessons, gleaned from interviews with America’s greatest coaches. If there’s any trick to being a great coach, it’s finding ways to hold people’s feet to the fire while making it feel like a foot massage. In other words, great coaches help people enjoy the accountability and support that make for success.

Our first great coach is a living legend at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “Coach K” as he is affectionately called, already has buildings named after him and a lifetime contract to boot. Mike Krzyzewski became the head coach of the Duke University basketball team in 1980. His teams struggled during his early seasons at Duke, but within five years he had started to make his mark. Duke was soon to be a national champion and a force to be reckoned with, year after year. What’s the key to his success? Listen to Coach K in his own words:

“I had to learn to not over coach my players. The more I allowed my players to be instinctive, the better we became. I had to let them get a feel for the game. That doesn’t mean not giving them structure or having discipline. But to not overburden them with ‘my’ stuff, to take a look at what they have to offer and kind of simplify whatever system we’re running that year to take into account their talents. As I grew as a coach, that’s what I’ve done better.”

“To gain their respect, I’ve also had to learn to tell them the truth. To look them in the eye and tell them, ‘This is the way it is.’ That means when they’re doing good stuff, too. Not just, ‘Hey, you’re not playing hard,’ or ‘You’re not giving enough.’ But, ‘You’re good’ and ‘You can be better.’ When you look someone straight in the eyes and you tell him or her the truth over and over, that’s the basis of your relationship. You develop the best of relationships because it’s founded on trust. To me, if I do that with a player, then I think I’m successful with that player and it’s just a matter of how successful we will be.”

There’s enough wisdom in those two paragraphs for an entire book. They certainly apply quite directly to every human endeavor and context. They speak to the problem of ego and micromanaging, whether it’s in the workplace, with the family, or on the court. To be successful, Coach K had to let go of his need to control and direct every action. He had to let his players find their own way, within the structure and discipline set by the coaching staff.

He also had to learn how to give honest feedback with positive regard. That may be one of the toughest things for people to learn. I have coached people in work environments where there was neither honest feedback nor positive regard. Feedback was designed to manipulate people as management saw fit. And, under the guise of constructive criticism, people were always confronted with their faults and shortcomings but seldom or never complimented for a job well done.

I hope that does not sound like your workplace, home, or coach. Unfortunately, it probably does sound familiar because dishonest feedback with negative regard is more the rule than the exception. It certainly lies behind the scandals facing many corporations today. Many people, including many leaders, have relied upon dishonest feedback to position themselves and their companies in the most favorable light • regardless of the honest truth. Behind the scenes, there has been an almost contemptuous attitude for anyone who suggests otherwise.

Fortunately, those practices and attitudes have started to earn their just rewards. As one leader after another faces the light of public exposure and potential litigation, people around the globe are coming to reconsider the importance of what I would call the high road of giving honest feedback with positive regard. Compliment those who do well. Compliment them more than once. It will not make people lazy or content; on the contrary, it will make people industrious and motivated. People love to have their work recognized.

When there is bad news, it’s still important to give honest feedback with positive regard. Failure is not reason to run people down. Hate the sin, as they say, without hating the sinner. Giving negative feedback with positive regard is, perhaps, the most challenging of all success secrets. Coach K seems to have mastered the secret. It’s challenging because, as Thomas Crane writes in “The Heart of Coaching,” “‘constructive criticism’ is an oxymoron; these two conditions can not coexist. The affect of criticism on human beings, regardless of intent, is almost always negative.”

So how do you deliver negative feedback with positive regard? First, be sure the feedback is the absolute truth. Sometimes it’s just our humble opinion. We decide that something isn’t good enough, and so we give someone a hard time, only to learn later that it was, in fact, good enough. It worked. It got the job done. Be sure to wait before jumping to negative conclusions.

Then, if your decide negative feedback must be given, follow Thomas Crane’s advice: “learn to stress the positives, the possibilities, and the potential for greater things.” Learn to approach people, even when you have negative feedback, with “positive energy.” “This focus stimulates openness, innovation, and creativity and is a more helpful framework for solving problems. Helping people to focus on the path forward is much more productive than keeping them hung up on what is wrong.”

Master this secret, tell the whole truth in season and out of season with positive regard, and you too will be on your way to consistent success.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


I am new to Life Trek. I get it on my Palm Pilot. What I have seen I like. Thanks.


Thanks for continuing to provide such a good newsletter every week. I spoke with you several months ago about the possibility of renting your bridge line maybe one hour a month. Please let me know if your line is still available for “rent,” the cost, and available dates. (Ed. Note: Yes. $10 per hour. Call 757-345-3452 for availability.)


LifeTrek Provisions are the greatest thing to come my way in a while. I’ve been reading along with you for over 2 years now. I find your column a great addition to my spiritual journey. It so often gives me a practical side I can lack. You are a great inspiration. P.S. have you read “The Soul’s Religion” by Thomas Moore? It’s great. Keep up the excellent work. I believe it’s people like you that will change the collective unconscious for future generations. I believe the scope of your work to be great. (Ed. Note: I have not read “The Soul’s Religion, but I do enjoy Thomas Moore.)


You know’there IS a West coast too. 😉 It would really be welcoming to include West coast times in all your promo. (Ed. Note: With a worldwide audience, local and GMT seems to be the convention).



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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