5 Ways to Give Positive Criticism

Criticism hurts for most, but given right, it can inspire both the critic and the critiqued. Here are five tips to make your critique a positive experience.

This article comes from An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies.

unhappy person

There is nothing pleasant about criticism. Even the best intentioned critique still stings. People like to be right, correct, and accomplished, and when they’re not, it hurts to hear the truth, no matter how nice your critic tries to be. Still, those who strive to improve, value direct feedback no matter how painful. And as long as the critic is not being malicious, he or she can actually build a higher level of trust by providing constructive criticism carefully and empathetically.

So whether you are reviewing an employee, family member or friend, here are five tips for giving criticism in a way it will be appreciated and well received. I also put notes to the receiver as to how you can make the most of the critique.

1. Have Clear Objectives

Ask yourself what is the best possible outcome of this critique. If you are simply venting with no intention, you won’t likely achieve anything but rancor and resentment. Perhaps you are only prolonging an eventual termination in which case why waste energy and emotion while putting off the inevitable.

On the other hand, if you find yourself the target of an attack, see if you can diffuse the situation by asking your critics what they hope to accomplish. In the best case, you may get an understanding of the real issue. In the worst case, you’ll know it’s time to make a graceful exit willingly.

2. Create a Neutral Environment

Consider the time and place for your critique. It usually helps not to critique in front of a crowd, which generally leads to humiliation. Human Resource policies may require a third party, but better to make sure that person is fairly neutral so no one feels ganged upon. The best way to neutralize the tension is with appropriate humor. You can build rapport and take down defenses by sharing your own personal experience of silly mistakes you have made in your career. This helps the subject relate to your humanity before addressing his or her own inadequacies.

If you’re the one in the hot seat and you feel threatened or embarrassed by your environment when being critiqued, speak up. Ask to move to a private area or to set up an appointment in the near future. Prepare yourself for the information you will receive. Be attentive with open body language so your critic relaxes as well.

3. Use Fewer Words With More Meaning

Your subject has a strong inner voice during a critique and is likely anxious, so keep your critique brief and to the point. The more you say, the more likely you will distract from the key points and make them hard to remember. Plan your conversation in advance and in writing so the subject can walk away with clear direction on how to improve.

When you’re on the receiving end, let your critic speak their mind. If you debate on the spot, you’ll appear closed and defensive. Better to agree to consider the feedback in the moment. Then you can revisit the conversation with careful thought and perhaps a little critique of your own if warranted. You’ll be taken more seriously when your response is thoroughly contemplated and well articulated.

4. Align the Criticism With the Subject’s Goals

A self-serving critique falls upon deaf ears. Know your subjects well enough to explain how your suggestions will help them achieve their desired objectives. If they are invested in the outcome, they’ll likely be more open to suggestion, regardless of how they feel about you or other people involved. For example, if their goal is to be an amazing boss, then dealing with other people’s objections becomes integral to their success. Provide the context for advancement and the critique will be welcomed.

When you’re the one being critiqued try stepping outside yourself. Listen objectively to what’s being said. If you are clear on your goals, you’ll be able to better identify and filter the good advice from the unwarranted ranting of lunatics.

5. Encourage Self-Critique

Instead of simply laying out a list of offenses, describe scenarios from an objective viewpoint and ask key questions so your subject can draw their own conclusions about their weaknesses. Lead them with questions to understand from a management perspective why a different behavior is more suitable. When making statements, stay away from direct attacks. Use “I” language and speak from your own experience.

Everyone should do their own self-assessment regularly. Try and anticipate the key points of any critique before it happens. If you are able to start the conversation by listing your own failures and suggesting remedies at the outset, you’ll disarm your critics and likely impress them as well. Then the whole experience will feel like a win-win for you both.


3 ways good manners make good managers

This article comes from Jennifer V. Miller, managing director of SkillSource

Is there a proper “etiquette” for leaders to follow when developing their teams? I’ve often heard it said that etiquette is simply helping others to feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Taken in this context, there is a connection to career development and etiquette because leaders are well-positioned to help their followers navigate the uncertainty that often comes with a career transition.

So where does honor fit into the equation? As the mother of modern manners points out, rules aren’t the governing factor in the science of living — honor is. When leaders come from a place of honorable intention with career development, they are stewards of their followers’ careers in the best possible way. They aren’t squeezing somebody into a predefined mold because the company policy said that how it must be. There is no one-size-fits-all rule in helping people grow professionally.

Developing people with honor requires that leaders:

  • Find the good in people
  • See possibilities, not barriers
  • Loan their belief to people suffering a crisis of confidence

Leaders at their most honorable help people prepare for and pursue their next big thing. However, the path to what’s next for employees might not be clear, and that’s where leaders can help followers navigate those unfamiliar surroundings when a career-building opportunity presents itself. Just as a gracious host handles unforeseen circumstances with élan, so too does the leader who practices developing employees in a mannerly way.

Are you a leader with impeccable career development manners? Here are three guidelines to steer you in the right direction:

  1. Orient people to their “X.” The first step in charting a new path is determining your location. Employees can be so mired in the present that they can’t even see where to begin. Etiquette in this situation calls for you as the leader to help employees see the large “X” on the map that says “You are here.” Help them discover talents they have that make them already prepared to take on a new assignment, even if the official job description doesn’t quite match. Once people understand their current location, they’re more able to take the next step.
  2. Imagine the future. Next, leaders need to help their team members visualize moving from here (their “X”) to there. Employees sometimes struggle thinking about future career possibilities. Leaders help people imagine the “next iteration” of their career; they are better positioned to suss out the personal transformation their team members need to take it to the next level career-wise. It’s helpful to state the growth in terms of from/to framework. For example: “from hesitant public speaker to confident presentation pro.”
  3. Create a supportive plan. Making a big career change can feel scary to even the most self-assured professional. Like a trapeze artist who’s in that brief moment of hang time in between the trapeze bars, making a career transition from “here” to “there” is fraught with uncertainty. Leaders who help lay out a plan that supports incremental growth with measurable milestones are those who maximize the probability of successful career transitions for their team.

Your leadership reputation is tied to the way you develop your followers. Your success will be measured less by strictly following the rules and more by the wisdom of your heart. In career planning, skip the formulaic “When X, then Y” and go instead for an honor-based approach, which is a personalized, professional growth plan for your team.

Why leaders shouldn’t aim to be irreplaceable

This article comes from:

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire. He writes the award-winning leadership-development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. 

In smart companies, an orderly replacement of high-level, critical positions is considered to be strategically important to the continued success of the company. A failure to proactively plan for succession is the same as failing to safeguard the financial assets of an organization.

Other than this handful of critical executive positions, succession planning for the rest of the organizations is usually managed by identifying “pools” of candidates that are considered to have potential to move into any number of senior leadership roles. In other words, the typical mid-senior-level leadership position isn’t considered important enough to worry about if the incumbent leaves. When it happens, the organization reaches into the pool for a replacement, hires externally, or re-shapes the position in a way so that it doesn’t look anything like it used to.  Some companies have the implicit idea to get promoted, you need to train your replacement, and these are the companies that actually promote from within.  However, if your company does not have a formal, or HR driven succession plan in place, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider doing it for your own good.

Why would any leader want to bother, especially if they are even not being asked to?  There are at least four compelling reasons:

1. So that you are not seen as “irreplaceable”

On the surface, being so important that no one else could replace you seems like a good deal. That’s job security, right? Well, that’s OK if you want to do the same job for the rest of your career. But if you have aspirations to do something different (like get promoted), then being irreplaceable is painting yourself into a career corner. I have been in the meetings when those decisions are made — it happens.

2. So that you can take time off with peace of mind.

Being “replaceable” has immediate, tangible benefits, too. You can actually take a vacation, maternity or disability leave, or time off for some other reason without worrying about your department falling apart or being called in to clean up the mess.

3. Failure to groom a successor is seen as poor leadership.

Talent management is considered a critical competency for leaders these days. Leaders that do it well have higher performing organizations and are seen as being strategic and confident leaders. If your management looks at your position and doesn’t see a viable slate of candidates, you’ll be labeled a leader that can’t coach, delegate, develop, or let go. The heck with that promotion, maybe it’ll be time to replace you for not doing your job.

4. If self-interest and fear aren’t enough motivation, then think about your legacy.

Frances Hesselbein, considered by Peter Drucker to be one of the greatest leaders of all time, said it best: “Successful transition is the last act of a great leader.”

You’ve worked hard to make a difference, establish a vision, achieve results, and build your team. Why wouldn’t you want someone that you handpicked and groomed to step into your role and continue to build on what you’ve created?

Once you’ve made the decision to plan for your own succession, here are a few tips on how to do it:

1. Define the future requirements for your position.

Unless you’re planning on leaving next week, don’t think about the skills needed to do your job as it exists today – think about what it would take to be successful three to five years in the future. It’s a good exercise in strategic thinking, and it may even change the way you’re approaching your own development.

2. Assess your team.

Use a performance and potential matrix to assess your own team. Does anyone have the potential to be considered a candidate for the role as you’ve envisioned it in the future? If so, put them on your “short list” of successors.

3. Look outside of your team.

A well-rounded, talented, diverse “virtual bench” should include one or two candidates from your team (if they exist) and two or three from outside of your immediate team. They could be from within your organization or external. These external candidates could also be part of your virtual bench for new hires or replacements on your own team.

4. Coach and develop your succession candidates.

Coaching and developing will help everyone on your team become better performers; it shouldn’t be limited to just potential successors. However, if you are preparing someone to step into your role, either short term (i.e., a vacation or leave), or long term, development has a different focus. It’s not just about helping them do their own job better; it’s preparing them to do your job through stretch assignments, delegation, training, coaching, and feedback.

5. Share your succession plan with your boss.

If you have enough self-confidence to create your own succession plan, then share it with your manager. Why? In addition to the benefits already listed above, it’s a chance to get feedback and another perspective. Who knows, maybe your manager knows something about your role’s future requirements that you were not aware of, has opinions about the performance and potential of your candidates, or has other candidate suggestions. It’s all good information to share and be aware of.

Perception is Reality: 8 Steps for Changing How Others See You

This tip and thinking comes from:

Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte and The Ritz-Carlton. He is the author of seven books, includingGetting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign-up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

The “perception is reality” adage is most often applied to the way each of us sees our own environment. If we see the glass as half full, we will operate from that reality and the glass will always be at least half full. But what if we turn that adage inside out? What if the reality we’re experiencing is due in part to how others perceive us?

Carly Fiorina, former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, stated: “Leadership is a performance. You have to be conscious about your behavior, because everyone else is.”

There are a number of actions we could take but we need to begin with behavior.

1. Observe how your behavior impacts others
Start by being honest with yourself. Notice how your behavior affects those around you. How do people react to you in meetings? In the coffee room or at lunch? If clients are not returning your calls, perhaps your behavior is making them feel pressured or uncomfortable.

2. Ask for feedback
Ask others how they see you. It takes courage and you may get some feedback that is hard to hear, but it’s an important step in creating a new perception.

3. Make behavioral changes immediately
Once you have some basic information, take small steps toward behavioral change. If you’re the type who usually dominates the conversation in meetings or groups, try keeping absolutely quiet and taking notes for a change. If you usually hang back and let others take the spotlight, write down some key points that are relevant to the topic being discussed and speak up. Perceptions will not change overnight, but you will begin to notice that others are reacting differently.

4. Up your visibility
If you want high visibility, you have to do what it takes to become visible. Start by volunteering for high impact projects. Look for a tough job that nobody wants to tackle, or something that’s been languishing but that you know is important to your boss or the company as a whole. If you see the company putting a lot of time and energy into a new idea or venture, get involved.

5. Seek out cross-functional opportunities
Identify opportunities with other departments that will increase your visibility. Such as a project or task force that will give you a chance to see and be seen by people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. Offer to make presentations or speak to groups, both inside and outside the company.

6. Promote yourself
You might be the best employee in the world, but if your contributions go unnoticed, it won’t matter. You need people who will speak positively about you and your accomplishments. This can happen on many fronts, but it begins when you speak up for yourself. This does not mean uncontrolled bragging about everything you do. It does mean sharing wins openly, and sharing credit with coworkers and team members. Tell success stories and celebrate accomplishments.

7. Seek out advocates
Identify advocates who will speak on your behalf. Ask your boss to publicize your work with his boss and on up the corporate food chain. Look for opportunities to expose your work to corporate leaders. If, like James, you work with clients or vendors outside your company, ask for their endorsement and referrals.

8. Get branded
You are the CEO of You, Inc. You are responsible for creating your personal brand, for getting your name known, for being memorable. You do this is dozens of ways, large and small. Branding “You” can be anything from developing a unique signature line on your emails to becoming an expert who is quoted in industry publications and asked to speak at seminars and meetings.

The perception others have of you will not change overnight. And once a change is made, it won’t necessarily stay that way. Creating a positive perception takes your commitment as well as consistent action on your part to develop and refine the image you want the world to see.

How men can help high-potential women stay in the workforce

The following brief was taken from:

Dana Theus is president and CEO of InPower Consulting creating business cultures by design that integrate the lessons learned from studying women in leadership, and is a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. Follow her on Twitter at@DanaTheus and on LinkedIn.

If you’re a man leading people in your company, chances are that you feel somewhat stymied in how to address one of the biggest talent-management problems all companies face: How to keep bright, talented women from leaving the company before they make it into the leadership ranks.  McKinsey data shows that in the pipeline, from entry level to vice president, the average company watches about 25% of its best female talent walk out the door.

According to Dana:

While I’m not recommending that men join the women’s empowerment seminars, there is a lot male leaders can do in their day-to-day work to address the talent drain problem and try to keep their best and brightest female talent. You don’t have to “understand women” to help them, either. As a matter of fact, it’s probably just as well if you don’t. Some of the biggest changes happen when you understand yourself.

Here are three opportunities sitting right in front of you.

Tell her why you believe in her. It’s a simple fact that most women don’t have the same kind of confidence in themselves the guys do — for reasons that date back to the playground. Don’t worry about all the psychology; it’s not your responsibility to give her confidence. However, you can give her reasons to be confident she’s probably never thought of before.

What you can do: Just be honest and tell her why you value and believe in her. Help her see what she’s doing that’s effective and ask her to do more of it. You can give constructive criticism, of course, but lead with the good stuff so it’s clear that she sees it. (By the way, this is a good way to help guide male employees too.)

Don’t let her get away with powerless language. Most women have been acculturated into powerless language patterns. You know it when you hear it and it often sounds like “I’ll try …” or “I know I’m not the expert, but …” Most women struggle with this. Even senior women in boardrooms use these kind of language patterns — four times more often than senior men.

What you can do: There’s usually plenty of self-doubt beneath the powerless language, but you don’t have to go there. Just help her “hear” it when she says it. You have a unique opportunity — possibly more than anyone else in her life — to help her learn to “hear” how it broadcasts her lack of confidence in ways that make her less effective at her job than she could be without it.

All you have to do is point it out to her dispassionately, as you would help her understand how to see patterns on a spreadsheet, and keep helping her see it until she begins to self-correct on her own. Tell her she doesn’t need to apologize or qualify herself. If you mean it, she’ll begin to believe it, too.

Confront your own biases, and help her confront hers, too.

Everyone has biases. It’s how our brains are wired. Being biased is not the same as being sexist. Being biased just means you’re human and that there are certain beliefs and assumptions you have about — everything — including women and men in the workplace. Even efforts to be helpful reveal bias, like believing that working moms “deserve a break,” which might lead you to be ok with a mom running out the door at 5 p.m. for daycare pickup and dumping an unfinished project on her female and male colleagues who don’t have children.

Of course, moms (and dads) do need a break in our 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. work culture when daycare charges $10 for every minute she’s late after 6 p.m., but your “helpful” bias may be breeding resentment among your non-parent employees that will cause you other headaches down the road. You can’t get rid of your biases, but you can understand and own them in ways that can help you be biased in more useful ways.

What you can do: Take the judgment away and be honest — at least with yourself at first — about your beliefs and biases. Challenge them and look for evidence that can help you evolve them into things you choose to believe instead of things that unconsciously drive your behavior. When you have chosen what to believe, go public with them and challenge others to own up to their biases and beliefs — including the women themselves! Have a workshop with women and men that helps them own their biases – and make sure to participate personally so everyone sees that this stuff matters!

Good leaders are self-aware. These strategies will help you address a demographic talent management problem you have, and they will also help you lead women and men of all demographics more consciously and more effectively.

Do You Have Bad Boss Syndrome?

One of the most common fears today of many managers is the fear of loss of control.  It generally stems from the fear that many managers believe that someone below them will out perform and “take their job away.”  For this reason, most managers feel like they have to control everything, push every button, prop every employee up – if the employee doesn’t need the manager, then the boss will think he doesn’t need this manager either.  However, I have seen several situations where individual managers did not get promoted because they had no one below them to take their place, and this is often a common mistake that many managers make – they don’t train their own replacements so they cannot be promoted.

Despite what many think and will say, today’s work force wants and needs a voice in the organization.  For this reason, the most popular method is being a participative manager, slowly empowering your employees to think for themselves, and be responsible for their work and for their actions.  Participative managers involve their employees with input into problem solving, decision making and continuous improvement projects.  Today’s managers still have to get tasks completed, but soliciting the help from their workforce helps accomplish with more reliability and efficiency.   Forget about being the dictator or tyrant, be the coach – you’ll find out that a happy work force is a more productive workforce.

I share this article with you from a Mr. Joel Garfinkle, from smartblogs.com/leadership

Do you have BBS (Bad Boss Syndrome)?

By Joel Garfinkle on April 15th, 2013

Do your employees stop talking and look uncomfortable when you walk into the coffee room? Does everyone but you go out for drinks after work? Is your boss checking up on you more frequently than usual? Do your projects seem to be stuck in quicksand?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have (horrors!) Bad Boss Syndrome. But relax, the condition is curable. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a good boss and see how you might be able to reverse the trend in just a few short steps.

  1. A good boss praises in public. A job well done deserves to be recognized. Employees will knock themselves out for a boss who gives them kudos in staff meetings. They’ll crawl through broken glass for a boss who tells his boss how great they are.
  1. A good boss critiques in private. Never single anyone out for criticism in a group. Schedule a one-on-one and share responsibility for the breakdown. “How could we have done this better?” is a great way to start.
  1. A good boss acts like a peer. A lot of bosses can’t get out of their egos. They flaunt their power, act like they’re above it all, and remain emotionally distant from the rank and file. That kind of behavior diminishes you as a leader. It makes you seem small, and keeps you from connecting with your people. Adopt a “we’re all in this together” mentality.
  1. A good boss will do whatever it takes. Your subordinates need to know you’ve got their back, no matter what. If a client threatens to leave, you’re there to help save the day. If the team’s high-profile project is about to implode, you help them come up with a plan to save it. If your department is suddenly told to cut 20% from the budget, you take a haircut along with everyone else.
  1. A good boss shares her story. Your subordinates need and want to learn from you. You’re part coach, part mentor, but all human. They need to hear about your failures as well as your successes, and what you’ve learned from both.
  1. A good boss delegates responsibility. You hear a lot about “the art of effective delegation.” Often, that just means pushing some of the tasks you’re too busy to do down the ladder a rung or two. Instead, give your people responsibility for significant projects and hold them accountable for results.
  1. A good boss lets the stars shine. The quickest way to move up the ladder yourself is to make sure you’re developing the people who are coming along behind you. Encourage people to develop their strengths, whether through training or experience or both. Show them the path ahead. Give them big-picture input, so that they understand the company as a whole, not just their piece of it.
  1. A good boss is a cheerleader for the team. Steve Jobs told the first Macintosh design team that they were there “to make a dent in the universe.” And indeed they did. Your team players need to feel they are on a mission and that you will champion their cause until they make a dent in your universe.

Have you ever experienced Bad Boss Syndrome? If so, what did your boss do? If you’ve been blessed with a good boss, what characteristics did you benefit from? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments section.

Joel Garfinkle is the author of seven books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” He has 17 years of executive-coaching experience, most recently helping a newly promoted director learn to develop and retain top performers while creating successful peer relationships. More than 10,000 people receive his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive his free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now.”.

Welcome to the Leadership Blog!

Leadership and management

“The point is not to become a leader.  The point is to become yourself, and to use yourself completely – all your gifts, skills and energies – to make your vision manifest.  You must withhold nothing.  You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”  (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader).

If you are a visitor, we thank you for your interest.  The purpose of this blog is to share ideas and thoughts about leadership, and how managers need to adopt good leadership principles in order to become more effective, and thus  attain organizational objectives.  As a professor at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan,  I will be using this blog for my students to post their learning and viewpoints on leadership principles.  It is our hopes that you will read some of these articles, share them with friends, and please feel free to post comments sharing your opinion as well.

Clearly the most important resource in any business is People, and it is through people that management is able to attain their objectives.  There are two ways this will happen:

1)  A dissatisfied and unmotivated employee will do as little as possible or enough to get by, without concern for quality or productivity, because the management has created a poor attitude and low morale.


2)  A highly motivated employee will go above and beyond to ensure that the best production and quality is attained because they believe in management and want the company to grow.