Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Praise in Public, Coach in Private
Across a business career that now spans well over 27 years, I have had the chance to experience and learn a wide variety of lessons from a wide range of inspirations. In some instances it took me years to realize the power and impact of a key lesson (as described in a recent essay “Execution is THE Strategy) and in some situations I have been applying and sharing a lesson that I learned years ago, the source of which is now lost in the fog of time. Thus let me preface this essay to say that I am certain I owe the following idea to some historic boss, teacher, or peer and I officially apologize for not being able to more appropriately credit the source today.
As you can easily see from this blog, I believe deeply in the power and importance of Leadership and am always working on my craft in this area. It’s an honor and a privilege to lead teams and so often leaders literally blow it by thinking they can “drive” organizations to do their will, execute their strategies, and follow their directives. In my experience successful, engaged organizations are ones where the leaders follow the three simple principles of leadership; to educate the minds, inspire the hearts, and direct the hands and feet of their teams. (Learn more about these principles in the essay “Three Impact Points of Leadership”) it’s in this context that this simple of idea, to “Praise in Public, Coach in Private” comes to life.
There are so many “leadership moments” that occur every day in a leaders work life that it is impossible to pre-plan your message/tone/approach for every high impact moment. Certainly there are key meetings, presentations, speeches, etc. where pre-planning is a must; being intentional about your content, your context and your approach is not optional! It IS a requirement of leadership. My comments today are about all of those unplanned, unrehearsed moments that are high impact situations without the benefit of pre-planning. In my experience keeping the idea of “Praise in Public, Coach in Private” close at hand will serve all leaders well.
Praise in Public: in situations where you encounter positive outcomes or positive actions from your team, don’t shy away from praising the individual or the team publically. Whether live, on a conf call, or on a group email, let the team know WHAT you like in the situation and maybe more importantly WHY you like it! Let it out, don’t hold it in! Your team wants and NEEDS to know what you value and what great performance looks like. Across my years in business I have never been in a situation where I have felt an organization had too much praise, or had “become soft” because of excessive praise. Across all the engagement surveys and team input sessions, the lack of feedback from senior leadership was MUCH more common an issue.
Coach in Private: in situations opposite from the above, where the results and/or the approach to the work did not meet expectations try to avoid public environments for pinpointed/direct/negative feedback. If you really want that individual/team to learn from the moment, the last thing you want them thinking about is their embarrassment in front of their friends and peers. Equally for high performing associates who “got this one wrong”, you as the leader owe it to them to quietly and privately dive into the situation to see where they or maybe YOU got it wrong as well. Berating high performers publically is a typical first step for those associate to actually listen when headhunters call.
While it seems simple enough, I can promise you it is often hard to put into practice. Recently I participated in a board meeting where the leader became energized on a specific issue brought up by one of his direct reports. Rather than deciding to “Coach in Private”, he dove into the individual with a growing stream of critique and reproach. Not only did the other board members feel left out and ignored the individual in question (a high performer in the company) ultimately shut down and the discussion literally stopped. Was there learning? Was there insight? Was there progress?
Now I know there will be moments where all of us will struggle to bring this idea to life consistently. We will be tempted to “Coach in Public” and maybe “Praise in Private” or more likely to not praise at all. Keep the simple idea of “Praise in Public, Coach in Private” present as you go through your busy lives of leadership, and I am confident that not only will you be a more effective leader, your organization/team will be more energized, engaged, and your results will be more successful.