We American leaders tend to be a critical lot. We like to pull things apart, critique, problem-solve and figure out what can and did go wrong. Even when things go well, we’re constantly nitpicking, finding the errors and fixing, or anticipating fixing things. Critiquing has its place in our culture and with good reason; it’s how we learn and do better the next time.
It’s unfortunate that sometimes the things we want to fix can’t actually be fixed, especially when it comes to the people that report to us and surround us at work. A common refrain is (often said with irony) “Work would be great if it weren’t for the people”.
No matter how much our head tells us that we can’t change others we seem to have a hard time taking this into our hearts. We mean well, as we all want things around us to be perfect, including the people. But when was the last time you changed when you received a criticism? It’s generally not a great strategy to help others improve without some attention to what’s going right.
One of the most common things I hear from a leader’s stakeholders is that they don’t feel the leader is giving enough praise and encouragement. It’s time to balance your criticisms with some positivity:
Notice: Your critical demeanor may have clouded you from seeing what’s good. I believe you can “practice” and train yourself to look for things that are going right by the people around you. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. And it can make a world of difference to your ability to lead others to do the “right things”. Start today. What if you spent the entire day looking for what’s right?
Let them know you’ve noticed: No matter how small the “right” thing you’ve noticed is, say it out loud to the person you’ve seen doing it. Put yourself in their shoes. A little bit of noticing and letting them know what you observe can go a long way, especially if you have a habit of being critical.
Don’t forget to give credit where credit is due, especially for the big triumphs. Make sure that those who matter (the rest of the team, the “higher ups”, your peers) know that you are cognizant of the fact that you can’t lead alone. It takes followers who are doing the right things for a leader to be successful. Call out these “right things” by name to others, and be specific.
Find ways to celebrate. We are all too serious and professional for celebration – or are we? What keeps you from having a little fun in honor of the right things? Most people enjoy recognition, and celebration is a great way to do so. Ask the people who are doing the “right things” what celebration might mean to them (within appropriate boundaries).
Even those of us with critical tendencies can find things that are going well with others so take a few moments to notice and compliment them out loud. Start today.