Attack the behavior not the person

I was taught to “praise in public and criticize in private.” Recent research and advice suggests this is the wrong advice.  It shifts the burden from the team to the leader.  But bear in mind that when criticizing in public you NEVER attack the person, only the behavior.

hbrIf you’re like most leaders, you believe in the adage “praise in public and criticize in private.” So when a team member does something that negatively affects the team, you usually talk to the team member in private. But this can be a dangerous adage to follow because it significantly reduces accountability, the quality of team decisions, and your team’s ability to manage itself. As Richard Hackman said reflecting on his research, “[T]he most powerful thing a leader can do to foster effective collaboration is to create conditions that help members competently manage themselves.” Here’s why criticizing in private undermines your team, and what you can do to build a smarter team starting today.

Why do leaders unwittingly shift team accountability to themselves? First, they’ve been taught correctly that they’re ultimately responsible for the team. Yet they misconstrue this ultimate responsibility and adopt a “one-leader-in-the-room” mindset; they believe that they are primarily, if not solely, accountable for how the team functions, including providing negative feedback to their direct reports. Second, research by Chris Argyris and Don Schön and my 30 years working with leadership teams shows that in challenging situations almost all leaders try to minimize the expression of negative feelings: If it’s difficult for you to give negative feedback, you prefer to do it in private than in the team setting. Read more

The book “Leadership and Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute is one of my recommended reads.  It contains a similar scenario and how a true leader followed up on it.