When an employee makes a poor decision, you as a leader may be tempted to criticize them or their actions. This is especially likely if there is a pattern of poor decision making.
You do this, after all, because you want to stop this pattern of behavior…
When the employee fails again, you criticize more or harder. You feel like you’re not being heard or you’re being openly defied. You feel like you’re being attacked.
And naturally, the receiver of the criticism also feel attacked.
But what most reactionary leaders do not take the time to consider is the adverse effects the criticism can have on the person being criticized. They simply react with hurtful speech; expect changed behavior; and forget that their harsh and hurtful tongue-lashing ever happened.
They leave their victim to heal their own wounds without any regard for the damage that was done. Reactionary leaders who criticize don’t understand that their venomous criticism can have an almost toxic effect on the body.
More often, it leads to worse performance, motivation, and engagement.
And, they generally don’t understand, nor care, that their criticism rarely generates improved performance.
Vicious Cycle of Criticism
- The leader repeatedly criticizes or blames an employee for a particular decision, behavior, or performance.
- The employee may accept some responsibility for a particular outcome, but feels undeserving of the amount or degree of criticism. The employee takes on a victim mentality, leading to resistance to change, expectations of further abuse, and feelings of righteousness.
- In order to avoid criticism, the employee may delay or fail to report problems in the future.
- The employee’s delay or failure to report problems incites the leader to criticize more, which leads to even worse employee performance, motivation, and engagement.
Criticism Kills :: Feedback Builds
It is certainly necessary to provide constructive feedback to your employees.
You do not have to be mean, however, to help others understand that what they have done has not been effective or efficient.
Rather than level criticism, ask the employee to evaluate his or her work and propose a solution for the future. It is amazing how insightful people can be about their own work, especially if the objectives or goals are clear and they don’t feel attacked.
Can you share a story where you have seen the cycle of criticism show up in an organization? I would love to hear how your story played out!
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Gary Cohen is Author, Speaker (on leadership) & Executive Coach at CO2 Partners
He serves clients with executive coaching and leadership coaching services
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