What Makes Someone a Great Boss? Confronting With Care.

I was in my late twenties when I was asked to make a brief presentation to the board of a major hotel company client. My total speaking time was brief – maybe five minutes but I was nervous…..very nervous. There were some heavy hitters there, including Bob, one of the managing partners of the office. Did I mention I was nervous?

I got through it and was heading back to my office when Bob cornered me. It felt like when Mark Harmon’s NCIS character Gibbs hits the emergency stop button in the elevator, so he can button-hole one of his team.

“So how do you think your presentation went?” he asked.

“Pretty good,” I lied.

“Well, you know Eddie, they tell me you’re pretty smart, but we’d have no way of knowing based on that presentation.”

I can still feel the way my heart pounded, and my stomach lurched. It was like when golf commentator Johnny Miller said of a nervous golfer. “His hands are sweating buckets, and his mouth is so dry he couldn’t spit if his life depended on it.”

“Uh…” I croaked.

And then it happened. Bob carefronted me. And in the process, he became the best boss I ever had.

“Look, we can do something about it. We can help you…. if you’re up for it. Are you?” he asked.

“Absolutely.” ­

Carefrontation vs. Confrontation

Feedback is key in the workplace. It’s the critical ingredient to grow, learn, develop and adapt and that makes it not only important for talent – but for organizations as a whole.

But feedback has gotten a bad rap…especially when we call it ‘negative feedback.’ It’s time to retire that phrase because while positive feedback feels good and is important to acknowledge what’s working well – so-called negative feedback is what’s really useful because it’s highlighting areas and opportunities for growth. What makes it negative isn’t so much the feedback but the way it’s delivered. It’s all in the approach.

That brings me to the idea of ‘carefrontation,’ something I’ve heard a lot of people mentioning lately. I first heard this term from Dr. Joe Currier back in the 1990s and it’s growing in popularity – which is a wonderful development. Because carefrontation acknowledges that it’s important to confront the people in our lives – those that work for us, even our children, spouses, friends – but for our words and suggestions to be useful – we must do it in a way that shows that we care. We owe people our honesty and should deliver the information with integrity, dignity, and love. At AO People Partners, we help leaders do this by building what we call Conscious Development Cultures.

We know that people development is at the core of any successful company’s business strategy. Many companies have figured this out on their own but aren’t sure how to make it happen. One thing we emphasize is the importance of integrating capability development and performance management. Talent development and performance management are naturally connected but are frequently pursued as largely separate activities. Managers are tasked with delivering feedback, but often have little knowledge about how to help an employee improve. So they refer the employee to L&D for training. And if they do have ideas, managers frequently don’t know how to deliver the feedback in a direct and supportive manner.

These performance management conversations fall apart in predictable ways. Often, the supervisor doesn’t provide negative feedback at all because he is reluctant to hurt the person’s feelings. And if she does share, she’s not sure how to help. And of course, there are those managers who only share all the negative feedback but offer no solutions. Carefrontation offers a framework and approach to fix this problem. Mention the issue, problem or challenge and then offer suggestions to address it.

When carefrontation is done right – it can be a turning point in a career. It was for me. Two weeks after Bob talked to me, my company sent me off to a four-day, intensive, public speaking presentation training, and I started to learn the tools and get the practice needed to get better. In time, with a few resources and the willingness to practice, I became pretty good. I’ve thought about that miserable board presentation and Bob’s action a lot over the years and I wonder how and if my skills would have developed without that moment of honest and helpful feedback.

What does a great boss do? She or he cares enough about their employees to honestly tell them what’s lacking in their performance, and help the person get better. We do no one or our organizations any good if we don’t take the time to be candid with our people. But negative feedback alone isn’t particularly useful either. As leaders we must care enough to focus not just on the problem, but also the solutions.

Oh, yeah. One more thing. It’s a real sign of the time period but Bob’s feedback didn’t stop with my public speaking. That day when he cornered me, as he started to walk away, he turned around and came back, looked me up and down, and said, “Would it kill you to get a little starch in your shirts?” Yes. The dry-cleaning bills skyrocketed from there, but I was grateful for that bit of honesty too.

Want to be a boss that people still talk about after 30 years? Be like Bob and care enough to have a carefrontation.

Ed Offterdinger is a former CEO and Managing Partner who served in senior leadership roles for 25 years and is now a leadership coach, strategic advisor and author. His first book, co-authored with his AO People Partners co-founder Catherine Allen, is titled ‘‘Conscious, Capable and Ready to Contribute: How Employee Development can become the Highest Form of Social Contribution.” It’s set to publish later this year through Conscious Capitalism Press. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


Embrace the opportunity to grow your brand and reputation as a company that truly invests in helping employees grow their capabilities – even and especially during an employee off boarding experience. When viewed through the development lens, this is a valuable opportunity for employers to learn and improve organizational and people development practices, build brand ambassadors, and enable departing employees to reflect on gains in skills and capabilities.


Facilitate strategic conversations with senior leaders to explore and define ways conscious people development can be integrated into the culture and daily workflow to power your business, your people, and your employer brand. 


Incorporate learning and development objectives into retention activities to prepare employees for new roles and opportunities. This can be done through engagement and feedback surveys, recognition and rewards programs, promotion, succession planning, and more.

Social Contribution

“Build it so they will want to come, flourish, and stay, knowing that someday they may leave.

Thus, it is imperative to define what you want them to say about their growth experience with your organization and what you want the outside world to say about how you invest in and contribute capable people to society.”

-Ed Offterdinger & Catherine Allen
Conscious, Capable, and Ready to Contribute. (p. 173)

Integrated Capability Development and Performance Management

Integrate learning, growth, and capability development goals and activities into your performance management rather than relying on day-to-day responsibilities alone to create a more engaging, productive, and helpful process.


Adapt onboarding to set new hires up for success in a continuous learning environment through orientation activities that introduce the principles and practices that support everyday learning and development for each employee.


Integrate practices, principles, and tools to better evaluate a candidate’s orientation to continuous learning and development as a factor in their overall fit for a position. This provides:

  • Improved candidate interviewing, assessment and selection practices
  • Better candidate selections with learning and growth mindset
  • An early introduction to your company’s development culture focus


Embed messages about commitment to people development to attract your ideal candidates.