How did you grow up? Were you surrounded by parents, coaches, teachers, and grandparents that yelled at you? Or were you surrounded by encouragers? Based on experience, my guess is that very few of you were fortunate enough to be surrounded by encouragers. Unfortunately, there are more people in the world who are likely to fuss, complain, bitch (sorry for any offense, but it’s a strong word used intentionally), whine, or give “negative” feedback.
Have you ever noticed that this type of feedback is “excused” in unique and creative ways? “It’s just tough love.” “We’re a high-performing organization and need people who can handle ‘straight talk.’” “I’m just being truthful.” “They need to hear it from someone. Might as well be me.” “Don’t be a baby. Put on your man-pants (or big-girl pants).” “Hey, I’m just being truthful.” And on and on it goes. People who, in essence, are yelling at, or putting others down, want to be believe they’re being helpful. They want to believe that others respond to this type of feedback.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there’s a time for “critical feedback” and “tough conversations.” Yes, there’s a time for getting straight to the point and being direct (like hitting someone between the eyes with a 4×4). But mostly, these are excuses for a lack of grace, for a lack of tact, and for poor timing. Without tact, telling the truth can be as harmful as telling an outright lie!
In 30+ years of corporate work in multiple states and countries, I’ve had many failures. And I’ve also learned a few things. I’ve learned that honey attracts more flies than vinegar. I’ve learned that for every negative thing you say, you should find 4-5 good things to say. I’ve learned that the behavioral skillset (art) of shaping is powerful in every setting. Every. One. And I’ve learned that the quickest way to sustainable, high performance is through the art and science of positive reinforcement (not flattery, not negative reinforcement, not bribery, not YELLING, not bitching, not being a “truth-teller” and not “tough love”). All of these approaches fall short and really indicate a lack of understanding, mastery of leadership, and maturity.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’ve had tough conversations with people. I’ve terminated many people (for performance and behavioral issues). But 95% of the time (or more), I try to find the good in people and reinforce it.
Today I woke up to thunderstorm. It rained all day. And it was gloomy. Waiting upon someone for one, of many, meetings, I looked out the window. Dreary. Depressing. Rainy. Cloudy. But as I thought about the person with whom I was about to meet, my heart quickened.
I was about to meet with an incredible human. Someone with an amazing brain (a computer of sorts). Someone with concerns. Someone with passion. Someone with fears and hopes and anxiety. Someone who had emotions and logic. Someone with a family and associated concerns. Someone who wanted to do a good job. Someone who hadn’t slept well the night before. Someone with incredible potential and intelligence. This, by the way, is you. It’s EVERY human.
And I was reminded not to YELL at them for their failures. I was reminded not to fuss or bitch or complain about their failures. I was reminded to encourage them, to lift them up and to look for the good. I was reminded to gently point out areas of opportunity and reinforce positive behaviors. I was reminded what an awesome privilege it is to be a servant. To be a leader. To be a colleague. A friend. A brother. I was reminded how much others crave a pat on the back. Myself included.
Don’t excuse poor behavior. And don’t avoid tough conversations. But look (actively!) for opportunities to praise, to positively reinforce, and to encourage. Go ahead and YELL at others, but only if you want poor performance, low engagement, and sub-optimal impact.
But world-class leaders in the home, classroom, sports arena, and corporate office know that others need encouragement. They know that 95% or more of good coaching is about identifying good behavior and reinforcing it. They know that the fastest way to sustained, excellent performance is through the behavioral process of shaping (by the way, if you didn’t know, shaping is how you learned to walk).
Take a quick self-exam. Do you yell at others? Do you look for and reinforce the good? Are you a good coach? Do you have sustainable, world-class performance in your organization? Have a great week until we “see” each other again next Friday. In the meantime, go ahead and YELL at others. If you want poor or mediocre performance. Or, choose to be a contrarian, a world-class leader, and shape the behaviors of those within your circle to achieve optimal results.
Dr. Robert Gerwig is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.
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