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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June 24th, 2014|

About the Author:

I'm a leadership coach with over 15 years of experience in working alongside CEOs and senior leaders to harness their full potential - and achieve maximum results. Thanks for following my blog, The Leader's Digest. Please leave your comments – I'd love to hear from you!


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

    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 July 1, 2014 at 4:00 am - Reply

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

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

    […] Cut the Criticism […]

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

    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 June 25, 2014 at 1:13 am - Reply

      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 June 24, 2014 at 6:28 am - Reply

    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 June 24, 2014 at 6:17 am - Reply

    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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