Do you know a leader who uses #anger or #criticism as a leadership strategy?  Over 23 years as an #executivecoach and #trustedleadershipadvisor, I’ve seen more than a few leaders who maintain that highlighting the shortcomings or failures of a team member in public is the right way to hold people accountable and put pressure on the team to perform.  Or worse, they justify it as “brutal honesty,” which they uphold as a value that builds trust and transparency.   (FYI the literature on #psychologicalsafety provides a very different view!)Mean boss yelling at team across table

Two truths such leaders should think about:

  1. No matter how close you think you are to your team members, they are much closer to one another.  When you single out any one of them, they will close ranks and protect one another – even if they do so silently.  This is because every one of them can see themselves being in that hot seat, and they feel for the person who is in it.  Your attempts to influence team members to see your intended target poorly will likely boomerang.  In other words:

    There is usually only one person that the group is thinking is a jerk – and it’s you.

  2. When we show negative emotion with our team, their limbic systems immediately kick in, evoking fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses.  Their energy is focused on protecting themselves and returning to a safe environment, NOT on your message.  Put differently,

    In the face of your anger or criticism, people will focus on managing your emotion, not your content.  You are forcing your team to lead/manage you, rather than the other way around.

To help team members maximize critical feedback, deliver your messages in private and when emotions are neutral.  Take a FAIR approach:  Focus on a specific situation, Articulate the problematic behavior, Identify the impact, and Reflect with them on the information shared.  Give them an opportunity to respond and ensure they take ownership.   Then agree to a plan of action to remediate.

Critical feedback can be a powerful motivational tool, provided it’s done with the right objective, in the right context, and with the right frame of mind.  Anger and criticism will also motivate people – to walk right out the door.