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Executive Podcast #202: Should Leaders Critique in Public?

August 25, 2022
Executive Podcast #202: Should Leaders Critique in Public?

Most leaders have heard the adage, “Praise In public, but critique In private.” But Is this always true? Are there times when you should critique In public?

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Perry Holley:

Welcome to the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team for remarkable results. I am Perry Holley, a Maxwell Leadership facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:

And I’m Chris Goede, Executive Vice President of Maxwell Leadership. Thank you for joining us. Perry and I want to just say thank you, not only for joining us today, but just being an avid listener, and very so grateful. Crossed over 200 episodes, which you probably have just listened to, and over 4 million downloads, so thank you, and just continue to share this right with your team. We talk about this where you’re coaching, and our team, they’re coaching leaders to where they’re sharing this with their team and then spending five, 10 minutes at beginning of a meeting unpacking it.

Perry Holley:

They’re sending us comments and questions. I think the next few weeks we’re just answering questions that we’ve gotten from folks, and I’m looking forward to… Always appreciate people helping me with content. I mean, sending in their valuable questions.

Chris Goede:

That’s right, that’s right. Yeah, so thank you. We wanted to say that as we started our session today. Just a reminder again, if you want to leave a question or a comment or something for us to talk about, and you just want to say, “Man, I’m struggling with this leadership topic, I need your help. I’d love for you guys to unpack that a little bit.” Don’t hesitate to go to MaxwellLeadership.com/podcast. There’s a form there, you can leave that, that’ll get to us or our team, and we’ll make sure that we address that for you. Well, today’s topic is should leaders critique in public? You guys have probably heard this before, I know I’ve heard it, where that age old quote or theme is, man, you want to praise in public and critique in private. You don’t want to do that.

So, this comes in from one of our listeners and I love it because it’s so real that Perry and I were just having a conversation this morning about this as a leader. And so Scott, as a loyal podcast listener, thank you for asking this question. You’re not the only one that’s struggling with it. Perry and I today- [inaudible 00:02:11] Yeah, today. No lie, in our leadership. So, absolutely love that. He asked, “Aren’t we losing the ability for others to observe and learn from the critique of leaders or people so that they are clear on the leader or our standards and expectations, and what we will or will not tolerate in meetings and sessions or whatever that might be.” So, talk to us a little bit about where you’re going to go with this content and this question or thought from Scott.

Perry Holley:

Well, I actually don’t want it to go unmentioned that Scott also suggested that maybe Perry would have five reasons. And so, I’m noticing everybody is a comedian now.

Chris Goede:

That’s right, they’re following it. I love it. Thanks Scott.

Perry Holley:

But I thought about it, and actually I can come up with five things I think you should consider. So, five questions I would ask about whether you want to critique someone in public to make an example, to let other people learn, to let them see what you tolerate and what you don’t tolerate. It’s an interesting question, and I have always heard, “Always praise in public, critique in private.”

Chris Goede:

That’s right.

Perry Holley:

But I thought we would go in that direction.

Chris Goede:

I am proud of you for the five things that we’re going to discuss today. When we talk about this, this is really about providing feedback to your team. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about consistent communication and feedback with them, both from a constructive, but then also on the other side of this, this is something where it’s positive and your team does need to hear both of them, and in the right way. Let’s talk a little bit about… Because this word critique can come across as finger pointing. You think about back in the day-

Perry Holley:

Yeah, criticism.

Chris Goede:

Criticism, right. And so as we talk about this, let’s unpack a little bit about constructive feedback.

Perry Holley:

Well, I definitely think glass half empty critique or criticism, glass half full, like you said, it is productive feedback that we want to help people. Let me get started with the questions and get your feedback on that. The first question is, what outcome is it that you’re really looking for? We’ve talked here about, I know I introduced the E+R=O where events happen, people do stuff, and how do you respond to that? But what’s your view on… And maybe, do you remember E+R=O?

Chris Goede:

I do. I do, and I’m a big fan of it. I know Brian Kite talks about that a lot. There’s a lot of great resources out there. I think this is a topic that, again, I’m internally right now working through this and I think it’s so relevant where we talk about the event where something happened in a meeting or a conversation or at a session, someone on your team did something that requires your direct feedback or critique in the moment. Now, you can’t control that.

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Perry Holley:

Can’t control the E, things happen.

Chris Goede:

Can’t control the E, but what you can control is the R, which is the response to the event, and as leaders sometimes we handle that the right way, sometimes we don’t. And then, based on the R we’re going to get to this E is going to then generate with the R, the O, which is the outcome. Now, you can create the outcome that you’re looking for, but at the end of the day, you can’t necessarily control what’s going to happen based off of that outcome. So, yeah, big fan of this. It’s a great little simple formula, and I think it’s something you can keep in mind and work with.

Perry Holley:

Exactly right, and I think you definitely want to start every opportunity you have to give this constructive feedback or critique with just the thought, what is the outcome I’m looking for? I guess there are times I really want to send a message, which we’ll talk about that in a moment, but if you did that, what are a couple of the possible outcomes you get when you consider the outcome first?

Chris Goede:

Yeah. Well, I think there’s two ways that this could go from big pictures, which is you’re going to put somebody in their place, which is not going to be overall good for team morale, team culture, or the other thing is you’re thinking about is, how do I want to help them grow? Or, how do I want to help them develop through what I observed in that particular event?

Perry Holley:

Which of those two do you want? I really want to be thinking about when I get a chance to provide a critique, if I’m going to do it publicly in front of others… I just know that we’ve talked to you a little bit about shame and about shame triggers that people have, and that you just don’t know how someone’s going to receive that. So, for me, the private critique or constructive feedback is something that I’m probably going to lean toward because it just gives me the outcome that I really want, which is to let somebody know that we’re trying to help you grow and develop. We made a mistake, something happened, can’t control that, but we can control where we go from here.

Chris Goede:

And this is really around the emotional intelligence of being a leader to understand that there are feelings. Yes, I know that’s a soft word for leaders to grasp and understand, but there are feelings when it comes to leading people, and you need to not only be aware and control yours, but be aware of the others in the moment.

Perry Holley:

I was just thinking, you and I were talking about this morning too earlier. Ed Mylett taught it at the I Live to Lead. It’s really stuck with me is that you’re always making people feel something, are you intentional about what you make people feel? I don’t respond, I react, I come flying off the handle to someone and give a public critique, I’m now making them feel something. Is it intentional? And as a parent, I’ve done some intentional flying off the handle just to make somebody feel something, but when there’s talking about engagement, and your team, and those types of things, I think it’s worth thinking about.

Chris Goede:

Yeah, I think I can confess as a parent and as a leader that that’s definitely happened.

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Chris Goede:

All right, so this brings us to question number two, which is, do you want to create more rowers or sinkers? And when I saw this-

Perry Holley:

Is that a flash back?

Chris Goede:

This is good stuff. I still use this illustration today, but this is definitely in reference to something that we’ve talked about previously here about people being in a boat. We have rowers, we have watchers, and we have sinkers. So, unpack this a little bit for our audience.

Perry Holley:

Yeah, so rowers is what the engagement survey says is a fully engaged person. You picture them, they’re in the boat, they’re rowing with you. A watcher is the middle of the boat, they’ve got the oar across their lap watching the scenery go by. Of that team of 10, that’s usually about three that are rowing, five that are watching, and then two in the back of the boat are actually trying to sink the boat. You hear drilling noise, what is that that’s in my boat? And so, if you call out someone in public, if you do this critique in public, I’m guessing, which of those three do you think you’re going to generate in your boat? Again, you’re making people feel something. How do you think that public critique is going to affect engagement?

Chris Goede:

Yeah. Best case we’re looking at a watcher, I think even maybe more realistic or worse case is sinkers. I love what you talk about this too where you go, “Hey, it’s so much easier for a sinker to influence a watcher and bring them into the back as a sinker.” So leaders, why would I add to that and help those sinkers be influential and bringing those watchers back? I think best case watchers, worst case could be sinkers in that boat.

Perry Holley:

That leads me to question number three was, are you considering the three questions every follower is asking about you? Flashback again?

Chris Goede:

Yes, that’s right. If you cannot, right now, regurgitate those three questions, you have not listened to enough of our podcast.

Perry Holley:

That’s right.

Chris Goede:

Which, those three questions are, are you trying to help me? Do you care about me? And can I trust you? This really just speaks to the mindset of providing tough feedback or a critique of someone’s performance, or body language, or action, whatever it might be that as a leader you know that it needs to be addressed. This goes back to another thing we’ve talked about, about the fine line of influence and manipulation, which is your motive.

What is your motive behind and how are you going to go about doing that? Do you truly want to help them? Do you truly care for them? Are you trying to build a relationship and a connection with a team member where they want to follow you no matter what it looks like, no matter what the challenges are, and that they can trust you? I think those are three great questions is you get ready to go in and have those tough conversations, or maybe even in the moment if you can think about these questions and zip it until you can do it in private, and then think through those questions before the private situation would be a whole lot better.

Perry Holley:

That’s why the E+R=O, the R could also be react. When I react, it’s generally not good. If I respond, it’s generally more positive, but what I like about the three questions about help, care and trust, says it’s really an influence. It’s how you build influence with people. If I’m going to give a critique or a criticism, constructive feedback to someone, I really want to be thinking about if I can have that in my motive, like you said, it’s a motive thing that I’m thinking about, is what I’m getting ready to do conveyed in a way that says, “I’m trying to help you. I care about you. You can trust me.” I can go through the most difficult critique of someone and come out positive because it’s a trust issue as they say, “I believe you’re trying to help me. You care about me. I can trust you,” and it just comes out of my mouth different, it’s received differently, and I think it’s done better in private that way to let people know that you’re really caring about them.

Leads to question four was, are you remembering the platinum rule? Remember this one? Flashback again. Everyone on your team is unique. Every person is different. How they perceive feedback, how they perceive you, how they interact. It’s just a lot of personality and temperament things going on there, and so we often to think about the golden rule that we were taught to treat others the way we’d like to be treated. But the platinum rule says, no, how about we treat people the way they want to be treated? So, I’m thinking when I’m providing critique or constructive feedback, is how would you like to be treated in this, respectfully or shaming? You want me to shame you or speak to you respectively? I’m guessing more respectful, but how well do you know the people?

Chris Goede:

If you’re having a hard time answering that question, I’d like for you just to go back down memory lane with some maybe leaders that have not done this so well with you in the past and what that made you feel like in that situation. I think that’ll give you a really good lens into that question. Well, now let’s go to question number five.

Perry Holley:

This is my favorite one.

Chris Goede:

Yeah, and this is a good question. This is a good question, which is this a lesson worth being shared with the larger group? Back to Scott’s question, and I think even bigger point here is, are there times to critique in public so that the team can learn from it? So that everyone can learn from it?

Perry Holley:

Yeah, so is there a bigger lesson? Is there a bigger something for everyone? I would go back to question one, what’s the outcome I’m looking for? What, am I going to make an example of someone in front of others so that everybody learns the lesson? I think that’s very dangerous. I would never do it. It’s just too many variables, too many people watching, too much that can be perceived out of context, people that have different perceptions, all the things that we’ve talked about. However, I was thinking about how I have done this in the past is I would critique you in private and tell you that we had an issue, a problem, a challenge, whatever it was, and I would do my best to decide the outcome I want. I would think about showing help, care, and trust to you. I would think about treating you the way you’d like to be treated in that so that you receive it, maintain your engagement level and all that.

But then, I might go to a team meeting and then share, “We had a situation recently, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page.” I’m not talking about any names. I’m not talking about any details. You know what I’ve learned is, most of the people on your team are already aware of what’s going on. They know more than you think they know, they’re waiting to see, are you going to handle it? Are you going to step up to it are? Or, is that the new accepted behavior here, what happened? Rehashing who did what and how and what, that’s not relevant. It’s not helpful. But, I wondered what you thought about this, about coming to a team meeting and saying, “We had an issue recently,” something about how somebody addressed a customer, whatever it was, “And I want to make sure we’re on the same page. Here’s our standard of performance we want on that, here’s my expectation. What do you think?” And getting the team to come on board about that teaching point. What are your thoughts?

Chris Goede:

Well, what I love about that is from a collaborative standpoint I think that gets everybody on the same page. The only thing I would say in that would be when you do it, when you had that conversation with that team member that led to this situation, and you have that in private conversation, maybe run it by them, say, “Hey, what do you think about us having a team discussion around this? Not necessarily bringing up this specific point or your name, but would you feel comfortable with that?” And if they say, “Yeah, that’s totally fine,” I think then you even get their buy-in even more than that. I like the idea, because again, the team has to get on the same page on how we’re handling issues like that, and it’s being corrected. Well, as I wrap up, let me give you a couple of thoughts around this. This is not an easy topic. Number one, not because it’s not necessarily about public or private, a lot of leaders don’t even like to give constructive feedback.

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and I thought this was really important as leaders to remember, there’s a way to be direct on a consistent basis, but to do it in a kind manner. I’ve worked for a lot of leaders and some do it really, really well. Others, not necessarily so well. I know what that feels like on my side, and I challenged us just a minute ago of saying, “Hey, if you go back down memory lane and you’ve received constructive feedback before and it wasn’t done in the right way, what’d that make you feel like it?” Then where you and I both have received feedback and it was done in the right way, and you’re like, “Man, no, I’m grateful for that. It was really a good growth lesson.”

So, my challenge to you as we wrap up is, do not avoid these conversations. They need to happen. Really focus on doing them the right way, and we provided again, the three questions that we’ve hit you with over and over and over again, to be asking yourself about that situation and that individual before you have that private conversation. I think if you do that, then you’re going to do fine. Do not avoid it. Do not just sweep it under the rug because then what’s going to end up happening is it is going to show up in public because you’re going to react in the moment, and that’s not going to be a good thing for the team, for you as a leader, or for the individual.

Perry Holley:

Totally agree, and thank you Scott for that question. Keep them coming. And thanks, Chris, for the insights on that. Just as a reminder, if you’d like to download the Learner Guide for this, if you’d like to learn more about our offerings or leave a question or comment for us, you can do that at MaxwellLeadership.com/podcast. We always love hearing from you, and we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the Maxwell Leadership Executive Podcast.

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