Being The Boss Means Overriding The Desire To Criticize

A leader must maintain balance between positive reinforcement and constructive criticism in order to truly motivate others and achieve success. - Brendan Witcher

A leader must maintain balance between positive reinforcement and constructive criticism in order to truly motivate others and achieve success. – Brendan Witcher

There is a hard truth in the world that most leaders struggle with: it is easier for us to recognize good behavior than bad behavior. For many of us, it’s because our emotions tied directly to each are completely unbalanced. When we see good behavior or experience a positive moment, our emotions flow like water from a faucet. By comparison, when we witness bad behavior or experience a negative moment, it’s like the Mississippi River is trying force it’s way through our brains and come shooting out of our mouths. Here is a good example that everyone can relate to:

Think of your car. Today, your car will probably get you from Point A to Point B (and maybe to C, D, E, etc) and then back to Point A again without a problem. You’ll go about your day without thinking much about your car or the modern mechanical miracle that it is. At each stop, will you thank your car? Will you feel happiness towards your car? Probably not.

But let’s say, during that important trip from Point A to point B, that your car suddenly stops working.  You’re not out of gas and there’s no logical explanation for it to break down. It just stops. Now you can’t get to Point B (or C or D or E) or even back to Point A today. Plus, you know that your entire day will be spent getting your car towed, working with a mechanic, and finding a way to get to all the “Points” in your life for who-knows-how-long. Now how do you feel about your car? Do you yell at it? Do you curse it? Do you pound on the steering wheel or kick the tire in anger? Enough said.

This is a good metaphor for how we react to most situations and, more importantly, other people in both our work and personal lives. Great leaders recognize and acknowledge that this is the natural state; to react boldly and swiftly to a negative and passively (if at all) to a positive.

Leaders work consciously to balance their reactions; to raise their level of expression in positive situations as well as suppress some level of expression in negative situations. 

Note that I did not state a complete reversal. Leaders don’t constantly play the cheerleader while ignoring that the team needs a swift kick in the pants. Here are some simple steps that can be taken towards that balance of positive reinforcement and constructive criticism:

  1. Be fully connected to what is going on: Actively look for the positive things happening around you (as well as the negative things that you might normally glaze over).
  2. Acknowledge good behavior immediately: Don’t wait for reviews or send it later in an email; do it now and do it publicly if appropriate.
  3. Pause before calling out bad behavior: Take the opposite route and plan to address bad behavior later that day and in private (note: never wait too long to address bad behavior)

Following these three steps with some consistency will get you most of the way towards this balanced leadership approach. By doing so, you’ll start to realize and recognize how far off your natural state is from this balanced state. If you find yourself having a lot of chances to praise that you wouldn’t have seen before (or pausing a lot more than you thought you would), you know you have some work to do. But stick with it, and you’ll find that mastering this skill is one of the greatest tools for elevating yourself as a leader and having success in working with others.

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About Brendan Witcher
Honest and practical career/business advice for dedicated individuals pursuing sustainable growth towards becoming successful entrepreneurs or business leaders.

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