Honest feedback can be hard to hear and even harder to deliver. You have a duty to help the team be their best; at the same time you do not want criticism to hurt team morale. The balance can be especially tough for those in a leadership role.

Unfortunately, many employers facing this conundrum choose to emphasize praise and positivity, steering away from an honest assessment of the work. Because -- let's be real -- we are all trying to be just a bit more "emotionally intelligent" these days. Right? 

I have always believed in being clear and direct. Early on I learned that direct feedback sometimes leads to tears. In college, I worked in the athletics department at the University of California, Berkeley, running the intramural programs. I once made a new student employee cry when I told her that the marketing work she had promised to complete did not meet expectations yet. (And that she still needed to finish the work on time.)

But not everyone thinks like I do. And many organizations are built with the aim of "getting along" as their core value. Some managers will even re-do work themselves or let a project suffer just to spare an employee's feelings. That is a mistake.

Steering clear of an emotional meltdown may be easier right now, but it kicks problems further down the line -- and delays the changes and growth that should happen today.

Your team is likely made of stronger stuff than you think. In fact, they may crave honest feedback from you and wonder why you never offer it. They may have even given up expecting feedback from you and started asking others instead. 

Offering feedback can be uncomfortable for both sides, it is true. But even if your critique results in a few tears, it can lead to growth. Delivering constructive feedback will make it possible to:

Create transparency

If you constantly shower your team with praise and compliments, you seem disingenuous. And your team will wonder when you are actually telling the truth. But once you are candid about areas of improvement, they will put more stock in what you say and respect you more for saying it. This transparency builds trust. 

Lead with conviction

Your team needs your leadership. But if you are not offering honest feedback to your team when they need it most, you are merely leading them around in circles and cheating them out of the guidance they deserve. Giving feedback is a necessary part of your job -- and you need to do your whole job (not just the parts you like most.)

Build new skills

Your team may feel like they are running in place and getting nowhere fast. They want to refine their skills and add to their knowledge, but they cannot do that unless someone alerts them to problems and gives them direction. When each person knows the specific areas they need to improve and goals to work towards, your entire team will be stronger. 

Cultivate success

No one sets out to live a mediocre life. We all have that innate drive toward excellence and mastery. But we cannot succeed in a vacuum; our work deserves and demands a critical voice. For your team, that voice needs to be yours. Withholding feedback only does your team a disservice, and can harm their careers in the long run.

Everyone deserves an honest assessment of their work that is delivered with kindness. How else can they know what to improve unless someone tells them? In this way, we sharpen each other.

A good critique does not tear down the individual. It honors their effort, while clearly pointing out what needs improvement along with specific examples. Leaders should conduct critiques in private whenever possible, but celebrate effort and accomplishments with the larger group. 

Direct feedback that is on target is rooted in excellence. The intention is to demand meaningful effort, wise decisions, and encourage growth. Once your team starts receiving the genuine guidance they need, they may surprise you with how hard they work and they may achieve more than you thought possible.

So go ahead and dish it out. But first, stock up on boxes of tissues. Your team can take it -- even if it brings a few watery eyes.

Published on: Jun 3, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.