Leadership Tactic #72: Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately

Praise publicly, criticize privately. It’s a simple rule.

And yet many people–among them a number of managers–get it backwards.

We criticize our peers in front of others so that we can feel powerful. We may not realize it, but we do. Maybe it’s a know-it-all comment about a friend’s misuse of grammar in a small group. Maybe it’s a snide remark at your spouse’s expense at a dinner party. Or maybe it’s a critical statement about an employee’s work at a staff meeting.

You could have just as easily waited for the group to disperse or the dinner party to end or the meeting to adjourn. But no, you chose that moment to come across as intelligent, witty, or authoritative. You pushed compassion aside and felt powerful for a few minutes.

Let’s all agree to stop doing this.

Unfortunately, all too often we praise people in private instead of in front of their peers. Perhaps we feel like we’re losing power when we do that, or maybe we’re just not accustomed to praising people at all. Which is really unfortunate.

The next time you catch yourself criticizing publicly or praising privately (or not at all, even though praise is deserved), hold your tongue. You can be a better person than that.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be a powerful person. But if you want honest, moral power that lasts, do it by being really good at what you do. Do it by being articulate and an effective listener. Do it by mediating and preventing conflict. Do it by criticizing people one-on-one so that they have a chance to grow, and do it by praising people publicly so that they have their accomplishments affirmed.

When was the last time you were criticized publicly? How did it feel?