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Cut the Criticism

“Managers help people see themselves as they are; Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.” — Jim Rohn

On several different occasions over the last month, I have heard leaders comment about one of their direct reports doing a great job.

In some cases, they were really chuffed the person was making progress on what had previously been a performance issue.

And in other instances, it was simply a matter of – “John is really improving in his communication with his colleagues”, or, “Mary really put in a lot of effort with that report.”

“Have you told them that?” I questioned.

Every single time, the answer was a slightly sheepish, “no”.

I don’t know if it’s Kiwi culture or a more widespread issue, but it seems to me that giving positive feedback is often a difficult task.

Are we afraid of coming across as too gushy? Cheesy? Touchy-feely?

It appears we are often equally challenged by giving praise as we are at delivering developmental feedback. But, as we all know, the benefits of feedback are vast – see here for a blog explaining more.

In my experience, we find it easier to focus on what’s wrong with others’ behaviour, what’s not working in a situation and what our direct reports need to “work on”.

And whilst this is important (I’m a big advocate in addressing non-performance as soon as we notice it), too often we are unbalanced in our perspective (or our comments, at least).

Criticism is more commonplace than praise.

What we shine a light on grows, so if your spotlight is always focussing on developmental needs and weaknesses, maybe its time to adjust your lens.

Everyone has strengths. Everyone is good at something.  Your job as a leader is to identify these, help your people to see what they are and nurture their growth.

“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” — Charles M. Schwab

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8 Comments

  1. Kirsten on June 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Hey Suzi,

    Just a quick note to say “thank you” for your inspiring posts! They are always so positive, thought provoking and so often very timely and just what you need to hear.

    Lots of love K.

    • The Leader's Digest on July 1, 2014 at 4:00 am

      Hi Kirsten, thanks for your feedback, I’m so glad you’re finding the posts useful. Cheers, Suzi.

  2. Cut the Criticism | kelokeblog on June 24, 2014 at 8:34 am

    […] Cut the Criticism […]

  3. douglaslang on June 24, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Great reminder Suzi.

    Readers may also be interested in reading about the Losada effect re the ideal proportion of positive to constructive feedback.

    Looking for opportunities to spot people doing things well and providing reinforcing feedback more often than criticism – starts to cause people not to fear the ‘can I give you some feedback’ question.

    • The Leader's Digest on June 25, 2014 at 1:13 am

      Hi Douglas,

      Great tip re the Losada effect. Yes, too much criticism can lead to a fear of receiving feedback. Thanks for your insights. Cheers, Suzi.

  4. Josh Comrie on June 24, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Hi Suzi Great to meet today, how’s your client load right now? I’m interested in taking you on for 6 sessions if you have some space? I haven’t been coached in years so brace yourself….!

    Sent via handset so please forgive any typos

  5. paradigms of leadership on June 24, 2014 at 6:17 am

    Hi Suzi,

    The difficulty posed in giving positive feedback is certainly not just a kiwi trait; in my experience leaders from a wide range of differing cultures find this really challenging!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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