I’ve always loved this quote by Neil Postman, but also apply it to those we impact by our leadership. I recently received a Linked-In request from someone who had reported to me years ago. He commented that he would always remember the guidance I had given him early in his career and how he has thought of me many times when faced with a difficult personnel challenge. Today he has his doctorate, has written and published several technical books, and is the founder and CEO of a publicly held company. We could only hope that all of our “children” would be so successful with their lives.
I’m sharing this with you not to brag, but to encourage you to think about the impact you have as a leader each and every day on those around you. Your actions speak so much more loudly than your words. For example, when giving praise, do you try to always catch people doing something good and thank them for it? And if you do how do you thank them? If you just say “good job,” how are they to know what specifically you thought was good so that they can be sure to do it again next time? Or do you instead say, “good job with your executive report, it was exactly the right level of detail that I needed, it was also to the point. I especially appreciated the executive summary up front with the action items spelled out.” Now that is something that they can remember and do again next time.
Something else I learned along the way was to be careful not to give what I call “warm prickly’s.” These are the “yeah but” phrases, you know, we have all heard them, been the recipient of them and, yes, admit it, given them to our staff. They sound something like, “you did a great job with your presentation to senior staff yesterday, but in the future you might want to speak up more loudly….” Or something like that, you get the picture. It’s the big BUT in there that gets you every time. As soon as you say the big BUT the warmth turns into just a prickly feeling. If you must do the BUT save it for tomorrow and give just the warm fuzzy for today. Let your staff bask in the glow of a job well done and save the constructive criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, for another time. I promise you will get better results long-term and have happier more motivated staff.
Now for the really bad thing that I just know we have all done. Even I have fallen prey to this and no matter how excellent a leader you are I’m sure you can remember a time when you have also done it. For graphic effect I call this “the shit sandwich.” Yes, I did put the “s” word in there because let’s face it that is what it is. When you do this it goes something like, “ your executive report was very well written, the graphics were weak, I really liked the layout of the slides and the level of detail.” If your boss said this to you what would you take away? I’ll bet it would go something like, “oh my gosh I need to polish up my graphic work, I’m so lame, I can’t believe I didn’t do a better job.” Yup, that’s what happens, the shit smells no matter how appetizing the bread is that it sits between.
So before you give praise make sure you phrase it to keep the glow going. Keep the BUT and the shit out. You can save this for a later time as a coaching conversation for do different next times and keep the did wells separated by at least a day.
Every encounter is an opportunity to shape the future. Now that’s an awesome responsibility and I just know you are all up to the challenge.