I’m not talking about good dance moves in my title. I’m talking about leaders that actually motivate people by finding them doing something right. Recently, a reader e-mailed me with the following comment:
“I think you should do a article about how it doesn’t take as long, or as much work, to find the good in your employees rather than the bad. The management where I work spends all their time trying to figure out what you are doing wrong, and never ever takes any time to point out what you are doing right. The result is a very stressful work environment and all the employees like what they do, but hate doing it out of fear.”
I’ve recently spoken to a series of employees that said they dread meeting with their managers because they only call meetings when there’s bad news that needs to be delivered.
This reminds me of sixth grade, when our Principal, Mr. Graves, would visit our classroom. Mr. Graves was a large man, built a lot like the pre-diet Drew Carey, who had a blond crew cuit and the same black rimmed glasses. He always wore a black suit, often accompanied by a cowboy hat and fake cowboy pistols. We never really understood that, even as kids.
However, the fact that he was large and we were 8 years old was enough to instill some fear. Even as he walked around the picnic tables during lunch we held our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, frozen in mid-bite as he passed by our table. But the worst was when he would open the door to our classroom unannounced. He would stick that large head in the door, and we all would stop breathing because the only reason he ever came by the classroom was if somebody needed a good paddling. It was usually the same kid, Patrick McDonald, but we were always afraid it might just be us this time. Luckily for us, but not for Patrick, it was his bottom that got the paddle every time.
I have to say that Patrick’s behavior never improved, and not one of us would have knocked ourselves out to help Principal Graves. Our only goal was to avoid him. Too many leaders follow the Graves method. They only show up in your cubicle when they need to verbally paddle you for something that was done incorrectly. Forget the other 364 days of the year where you worked hard and did it all right. On this day, you’re getting attention. And for all the wrong reasons.
Leaders would be amazed at how motivated employees would be if they’d start finding them doing something right. In his blog on the Entrepreneur site, celebrated entrepreneur Richard Branson says it this way:
Always look for the best in your people. Lavish praise, never criticize.
Rather than focusing on mistakes, a leader needs to catch someone doing something right every day. If this culture of fostering employee development through praise and recognition starts at the top, it will go far toward stamping out the employee fear of failure that can stunt a business, particularly in its early days. When mistakes happen — which is inevitable — I always take the position that you have to learn from them, not dwell on what went wrong. It’s almost always better not to go over the obvious with the people involved. They know exactly what happened.
If you’re like my reader, and in a tough work environment, here’s some advice. I’d love to say that the leaders who need this message will take this advice and change all on their own, but they won’t. So you’re going to have to ask for it. Here’s my challenge to you. The next time your manager or leader gives you feedback on something you did incorrectly, ask them to do one thing for you. Say: I understand that this needs to be corrected, and I will do that for you. I would like to ask one thing of you — the next time we talk, could you find one thing that you found that I did right?
It might be an awkward interaction, but if done without anger it could also cause your leader to start finding the right moves. When they do, smile. Thank them. Let them know you appreciate it. Then maybe they’ll find the right moves again.