…and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing else that kills the ambition of a person as criticisms from superiors. I am anxious to praise but loathe to find fault. - Charles Schwab
(quoted from "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie)
This quote does more than step on toes. It pierces the heart. How easy it is for us to point out the negative in every area of life? A casual look at the daily news, talk shows, politics, religion, sports and entertainment should be enough to convince you of this. Let’s look at this thought from another angle. When we add a new member to our organization, “a rookie” to our teams, what are we most likely to point out – the things the rookie did right or their mistakes? No matter how major or minor, we are quicker to point out mistakes than successes.
Why are we so quick to point out the mistakes?
Some want to show the newbie a superior knowledge and mastery of the tasks that the newbie is also expected to master. Some get misplaced pleasure about being in charge and abuse their power. Some are insecure in themselves, thinking that the new person’s success leads to a reduced role for themselves.
Perhaps this is exactly how some of us were trained and we are repeating exactly what we learned. I pray that none of these are true of you, fellow leader and reader of this blog.
I am a 23-year Air Force veteran that saw and experienced plenty of this “influence by criticism” first-hand. This style rarely worked on me. Honestly, this style of leadership, when I was exposed to it, ticked me off. I, personally, avoided using this style throughout my career. Fear-based influence may “get the job done” but it never earns the leader any long-term respect. In fact, the person known for this style of leadership is the one person every member of an organization celebrate – as they leave it permanently. Leadership by criticism kills organizations and it kills the leader using it. Think of where you have seen this style of leadership, how did it impact you and your organization?
A place where Leadership by Criticism is most dangerous is in school systems. Teachers have the AWESOME opportunity and responsibility to make and mold the future leaders of this world. The teacher who chooses to encourage their students’ gifts and talents will create a leader who will never forget them. The teacher who consistently criticizes their students will also have a leader who will never forget them either, but for all the wrong reasons. I wonder how many of you remember the teachers who breathed life into you with an encouraging word? How many times did a teacher take notice of you as you solved a problem, demonstrated a knack for creativity, showed athletic abilities, displayed good character or showed compassion? Words of encouragement from leaders we respect, especially at a young age, can be transformational. Words of criticism, on the other hand, can wound young hearts and minds affecting them for decades! I remember moments where my own teachers breathed life into me with words of encouragement. Unfortunately, I also remember the ones who hurt my soul with their criticism too.
It says in the Bible, that the power of life is in the tongue. What kind of life power is coming from yours?