Author and Radio Host Ken Coleman: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

You need to be clear on what is most important to communicate. Leaders often blow it because they haven’t prepared their message and they just wing it. They end up unintentionally sending mixed messages and ultimately hurting someone’s feelings.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Coleman.

Ken Coleman is a #1 national bestselling author and nationally syndicated host of The Ken Coleman Show on over 50 radio stations nationwide. He’s the author of The Proximity Principle which gives practical guidance on how to connect with the right people and places to create career opportunity. Since 2014, Ken has served at Ramsey Solutions and helped thousands discover what it is they were created to do and how to land their dream job.

Thank you so much for joining us Ken! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Istarted out working in politics at the age of 19 and by 23 I was Special Assistant to the Governor of Virginia. But I soon realized politics was not what I wanted to do so I left for the private sector. By age 30 I had already held positions of VP, President and CEO and even started my own company. But I was still not feeling fulfilled. After a long period of finding clarity about what I was created to do, I decided to make a career turn and pursue broadcasting. But there was zero glitz and glamor early on. I essentially paid a local station to let me talk for an hour every Saturday on AM radio in Georgia and to this day, I think my only listener may have been my wonderful wife. The practice, however, was invaluable. Over the next half decade, I found opportunity by being near the right people and places that would lead the way to Ramsey Solutions where I am now a nationally syndicated radio host and bestselling author.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Ramsey Solutions is unique for two reasons. First- there’s a clear mission that we’re all crusaders on and we strive to accomplish it every day. Second- the culture of Ramsey Solutions is one of personal and professional development. An employee can come in as an intern and eventually move into an executive role. For example, one of our executive board members started at entry level years ago but is now the Senior Executive VP of Business to Consumer. That’s incredible.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Before doing any on-air radio, I was working to produce a sit-down interview between an MLB broadcaster and Duke Basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski- also known as Coach K. I was doing the research and prep work to really make the interview count and I knew everything that would be asked and why. Turns out, the broadcaster’s schedule changed due to a rainout and they couldn’t find anyone to perform the interview last minute. So, guess who was there to fill the void? I went from being the guy doing the little things behind the scenes to sitting in the chair interviewing one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever. My desire to be prepared and within proximity to the people making those decisions paid off in a major way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During my early days on talk radio in Georgia, I had just moved to a 2-hour time slot in the afternoons. I was still new to the broadcast radio business and certainly had not “seen everything”- as the saying goes. One afternoon, storms rolled through the area and I was not expecting there to be automated alerts that, without warning, would essentially preempt the show. At first, it took a while for me to realize what was happening and it through off the pacing and timing of my show. At one point, I had to be told that I was no longer on air because I didn’t realize what was happening. This happened six times in a single show! I was forced to just wait it out until the weather cleared and my live show could resume. This frustrating and comical experience was a crash course in live broadcasting and taught me to ‘roll with the punches’ on a personal and professional level. I learned that the show must go on, even when things are out of my control. Adjust. Learn. Keep on moving.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

You must start by properly defining the problem. Burnout happens when stress and exhaustion build up so much it drains your energy and robs you of your purpose. Leaders must recognize that burnout comes from multiple places:

  1. No passion for the work. If your employees don’t think their job matters, eventually they’re going to feel like they don’t matter. That’s where you have a serious problem. Make their value apparent.
  2. Toxic workplace. Lack of clarity, trust or too much gossip in the workplace can be a drain on morale and spread toxicity like wildfire. This could also be a direct reflection on poor leadership.
  3. Boredom. Some workers get too comfortable in their jobs, even though they may do them well. This can cause a lack in growth if they aren’t challenged. Leaders need to recognize this as a missed opportunity to get the most out of their team members.
  4. Feeling overwhelmed. Some people are given too much work on a regular basis and it slowly burns them out. Many times, shortages in staff or other resources are the biggest contributors
  5. Feeling underappreciated: Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Compliments will lift spirits but don’t make them too common or they’ll sound empty. There is no substitute for genuine praise, when it’s warranted.

How do you prevent burnout? As a leader, communicate what you’re willing to do to help. Encourage your team members to explore a few options:

  1. Speak up: Don’t squash open communication. Leaders can’t fix issues they don’t know exist.
  2. Change perspective: This one can be tough. Not every team member is working in their dream job and they may not be open about their personal growth goals. Let them know it’s ok to let the current job fund their future and be a launch point. Be thankful for their work!
  3. Change the role: Some workers simply need a change in job description to give them a jolt. Even if a major change isn’t possible, let them work in a different area on the side.
  4. Rediscover the why: Why are team members doing the job they’re in? Are they the best? Would they do better somewhere else? Do they connect with the results? Do everything you can to make sure you and your team members are in the optimal situations.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is defined by those who follow you. Are they following you because they must? Or because they want to? You can be called a leader, but if no one is really following you- then you aren’t a true leader. It’s like being the front of a pack. What are they motivated by?

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I go someplace where I’m alone and it’s quiet. Then I ask myself three questions. What do I want the audience to know? What do I want them to feel? What do I want them to do? This allows me to get serious clarity about the upcoming challenge whether it’s for an audience of one- or one thousand.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Most of my work in the private sector has given me the ability to work with teams of between five and 20 people. Early on, the feedback I would provide was like hitting a nail with a hammer. Blunt. It was unfiltered and unorganized. It took me years to learn and formulate how to give good feedback that would build up and not tear down.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Feedback should be designed to offer clarity. That will build trust between team members. To be unclear is to be unkind because the leader would require the team member to operate under expectations which they likely know nothing about. Giving team members the proper clarity will breed confidence. The more confidence they have- the more courage they’ll have to do their job well.

Giving honest feedback can be very difficult. When honest feedback is also negative feedback, it’s crucial that it be given discretely. Always. That will protect the dignity of the team member who in return, will give public loyalty. Public praise is great, but it’s how they’re treated in private that communicates their real value.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. You need to be clear on what is most important to communicate. Leaders often blow it because they haven’t prepared their message and they just wing it. They end up unintentionally sending mixed messages and ultimately hurting someone’s feelings.
  2. Think about how you would want someone to give you the same advice. This is empathy. It puts you in a compassionate place to deliver the criticism and protects you from stepping over the line and saying something that may not be true.
  3. Tell them what they’ve done right and how they are valued. Honest praise up front can soften the blow of criticism later. It helps to bring down any pre-constructed defense barriers the team member may have due to expectations for the meeting
  4. Share the critique and coaching they need to receive very clearly. Use the preparation from step one- to make sure everything is communicated well. You can’t just say what’s wrong and identify the problems without offering solutions to help them fix it.
  5. Reinforce- with praise and value. This is nearly a repeat of step three- only you want to end the conversation positively. Leaders need to send the message- “you are capable of making these changes, and I’m going to be here to walk along with you.” That will leave them confident and in control.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Avoid giving feedback over email at all costs. It’s extremely difficult to communicate tone and emotion properly. In many cases, the time spent crafting an appropriately worded email could be spent simply picking up the phone and having the conversation. If you absolutely must communicate constructive feedback over email, be as clear and concise as possible.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

As a general rule- sooner is better than later. But make sure to give yourself time to prepare appropriately so your response is not rushed. Unfortunately, there isn’t a formula to follow for every situation since they’re all different. Find a way that works for your leadership style and for what the situation will allow. Don’t wait too long otherwise details can get lost and emotions- felt in the moment- can be forgotten.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A boss cares more about the mission and the people executing the mission than they do their own gain. If a boss focuses on the mission- the biproduct will be personal gain and satisfaction. It’s an “if we win, I win” attitude. A great boss is a servant to the mission and the team trying to accomplish it. At Ramsey Solutions- one of our core values is ‘marketplace service’. Sounds simple- but it’s the principle that if you help enough people (the mission)- you don’t have to worry about money part.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a global movement of men and women- determined to discover their unique role and contribution through their work. But that’s not enough. They also need to be inspired to pursue that purpose with passion.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My father once told me “Your time will come.” At the time- I was 7 and playing organized soccer for the first time. Since I was by far the smallest kid on the field, I did not get much playing time. That quote was his advice when I felt dejected after riding the bench constantly. He knew the day would come when I would get my opportunity and I would no longer be the smallest kid on the field. That message has stayed with me at every stage of my life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can go to and take advantage of 100% FREE guides to helping you discover what you were born to do and how to get there. You can get my Career Clarity Guide, Interview Guide, and even a short quiz that will identify if you should quit, change or pivot your job. You can also watch and listen to my show live every week day at

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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