Giving feedback to your people is critical to getting the job done, but a typical mistake many new (and not so new) leaders make is to focus on the negative, to catch people doing something wrong, and then correcting them. In this post, we’ll take a look at the power of giving frequent, positive feedback and demonstrate how you can use it to great effect as a leader.
Don’t Wait for Perfect
Many leaders have the notion that they should only give praise when someone has done the job exactly right, and not a minute before – it’s that “Tough but Fair” mentality, with the idea that giving praise only sparingly will make it all the more valuable when it does come. And I would agree that’s true to a point. You shouldn’t expect to get a trophy every day just for showing up on time.
But on the other hand, if you wait until they have gotten it exactly right before giving them any praise or feedback, it’s going to take a while to get there, if you get there at all. And meanwhile, your people will grow frustrated and possibly lose interest.
As a simplistic example, what if I wanted to teach my dog to run and jump up into a chair when I gave the command, “chair.” In a negative environment, someone might take her out back, set out a chair, give the command, “Chair” and if she didn’t immediately run up onto it, they might swat her backside with a rolled up newspaper (I would never do this, by the way).
She doesn’t know what “Chair” means, so she might get up and move around at first, but then she’d get a swat. Pretty soon she’s going to associate the command “chair” with punishment. She’ll either cower in the grass not moving, or run away to avoid getting hit. Not at all what we were looking for.
I would have created a hostile environment where she’s afraid to do anything for fear of getting punished. She is frightened into inaction and her focus is on avoiding punishment.
“…reward her when she gets it about right; not necessarily perfect, at first, but close.”
To create a positive environment, I have to lead her to seeing what the goal is, and reward her when she gets it about right. Not necessarily perfect, at first, but close.
I tried this with our dog this morning to see how it would work. I had her sit, and then I put out an orange cone. As soon as she goes to check it out, she gets a Cheerio (her favorite treat, next to cheese). Soon she connects going to the cone with getting a reward. She likes that, so she’ll always go to the cone.
Now I start moving the cone a little farther away, and she learns to always go to it to get her reward. Pretty soon I can stair-step it up onto the chair and start using the command “chair” and she will understand what she has to do to get her reward. You can watch this short video to see how it works out.
Lead them to Success with Positive Feedback
Obviously I’m no dog trainer, but you get the idea. And of course people are a little more complex than dogs, but the basic concept must be in place: prompt recognition for positive behavior. Use frequent and immediate praise as people get close to the initial target, and then steadily move the target closer to the goal until they are able to accomplish it on their own.
When you establish a positive leadership environment you build a team of people actively looking to do things that will earn them praise and satisfaction. And that’s a much better place to be in than one where people are focused on avoiding doing anything that will result in getting swatted.
Of course there is a time and place for correcting negative behaviors, and that’s a subject for another post, but in general the more of the positive you focus on, the less of the negative you will have to deal with.
So as a leader, make your focus on catching them doing something right, and you will be building a team that can achieve amazing things.