Sharing praise and concentrating criticism

The best leaders I’ve worked with have been generous with the good things – the moment they were praised, they shared it with the team and gave us credit.

They also showed us the way by taking all the criticism of bad outcomes on them. The buck always stopped with them. When things went wrong, they didn’t muck around with excuses and politics. They just debriefed, learnt from the experience, rolled up their sleeves and got right back to work.

I’ve met quite a few good leaders who’ve done a good job sharing joy, but very few who’ve concentrated criticism. I recognize it is hard to do in large corporate contexts with all the politics – as someone told me once, you don’t want to be caught apologizing too often. However, I’ve found few things to be as inspiring as a leader who simply shoulders the criticism and says – “The buck stops with me.” You might know within the team that she/he had little do with the problem. But, externally, you always knew she/he’d had your back. It also inspired courage in other members of the team to stand up and say – “No, this was my fault” and avoid the blame game.

The biggest objection people have to the idea of concentrating criticism is that people might think less of the leader in the process. While I concede that could be true in many political cultures, in cultures which are built around meritocracy and getting stuff done, I have noticed that your respect for such a leader only goes up.

At least, that is definitely what I’ve found and this is why I’ve tried hard to copy these behaviors.

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2 thoughts on “Sharing praise and concentrating criticism

  1. The biggest objection people have to the idea of concentrating criticism is that people might think less of the leader in the process.

    I agree that there’s some inherent truth to this, particularly in organizations where politics sometimes trump getting things done.

    Even so, in my experience, employees work significantly harder for a leader who shares the praise and falls on the sword of criticism.

    The way you measure that is dependent on your organization; however, it’s worth considering, even in a political organization, the impact of these leadership attributes on a division/team. You may avoid some of the politics merely because of how effective your group is performing broadly across other instances.

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