A Critique of Critical Leaders

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Sometimes I wonder if some leaders truly want to see their people succeed. For example, I see leaders delegate a task to a person on their team or an entire team itself, but instead of providing coaching and support along the way, they watch and criticize in how the individual or team goes about completing the task at hand.

It’s easy to get into the habit of worrying about “how” our people approach a project rather than helping them achieve the desired results. Instead of focusing on the viability of the idea or strategy, we hone in on small, insignificant details, like the color of the font used in the presentation.

Not that font color doesn’t matter. It does, but a change in font color shouldn’t be the first thing you suggest after a teammate has just presented a solid strategy that they worked hard to create.

When we are too quick to critique:

  • We stop listening and go into “fix it” mode when it may not be broken in the first place.
  • We rob our teammates of the opportunity to learn by going through the process.
  • We become too quick to nitpick and too slow to praise.
  • We start believing that our way is the best and only way.
  • Our teammates develop a “why bother” mentality. Why bother giving their best effort when you’re just going to pick it apart?
  • Our teams become discouraged and demotivated.

How to balance coaching and critiquing:

  1. Understand your role. Once you share your vision and hand off a project, your job isn’t to focus on the minute details of how the project gets done. Your job is to support, serve, answer questions, and check-in along the way. Your interest should be in achieving the desired results, so stay focused on the big picture.
  2. Create a safe environment for sharing ideas and offering input. In team meetings, don’t always be the first person to critique an idea. Instead of focusing on the negative, point out what you do like or what could work. Sometimes it’s okay to just bite your tongue and let others share their thoughts because sharing ideas and opinions takes courage.
  3. Set some guidelines for yourself. For example, instead of immediately going into critique mode, listen and take notes. Follow-up with them within a day or two on which ideas have legs, and provide them some encouragement about their idea as well as some insight on how they can take their idea to the next level and when to check back in with you.
  4. Be consistent in your thought process. The more consistently you are in how you approach challenges and make decisions, the more easily your teammates can learn to approach challenges and make decisions like you would.

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