Why criticise?


Spare the rod and spoil the child was an established social norm a few decades ago and was practised very routinely all over the society in various walks of life, right from a family setting to schools, governments, judiciary and places of work. As time has elapsed and our society has been evolving, the norms have been challenged severally. We get to see and hear advice that a leader should praise in public and criticise in private. And, loads of research has shown that people perform very well while they receive positive strokes. Given such realities, managers are advised how important it is to create positive ambience in their team and use one-on-one settings to deliberate upon the areas that their team member needs to improve.

I do not think, this is not a gospel truth that is cast in the stone. This fails!

It is common knowledge that a team is as good as its weakest link and many a times, people know who is the weakest link. Unless there is a clear and transparent discussion in the team about the weaknesses, it is under-mining the hard work, commitment and expertise that the performers bring to the team. Team loses out on accolades if it misses its milestones and hence, the leader of the team must set examples publicly. Private criticism will not work! The leader must be skilled in raising the issue, sharing his or her thoughts on the issue and creating some discussions about the issue rather than on the person. This is not easy! But, skilled leaders must be able to demonstrate accountability to their own teams.

Secondly, conversations in private hold different connotations to different people. At times, the rumour mills work overtime to either fabricate or conjecture topics to describe the situation. So, it is all the more important that the bull is taken by the horn and it is resolved. The team must be clear on what is right and what is not. This will ensure that message is consistent and it empowers people at various levels in an organization to use these as examples and precedents while dealing with an issue or a behaviour or a result which is worth criticising.

Last, but not the least, in the absence of criticism, people in a team could conclude that each failure by someone or the other in the team will be owned up by the leader. The accountability starts shifting from the person in the team to the leader. This kind of an environment leads to decline in competitiveness, accountability and differentiation. Hence, the team stops solving problems that are confronting them, starts lowering the bar and undermines merit. This is not a great situation to be in for a team which is aiming to win!


While I am not advocating the traditional practice of controlling and monitoring, it is important that the leader uses the power of criticism in appropriate doses at the right time to keep the team at its best. Sounds easy, but difficult to put it in practice!

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