There is a place for criticism, but it needs to be balanced with positive reinforcement.
Even the best leaders can be overly critical, finding fault in their employees and allowing their own negativity to mask their best selves. Certainly, there is a place for criticism, but it must have enough positive reinforcement to counter-balance it. That’s just being realistic.
Why is this balance important to you as a leader? Because you set the tone. Your employees are watching for cues on how they should behave, and if that tone is overly negative, it catches on like a virus. If you want a culture that is more positive, then you have to be more positive.
Notice that I didn’t say, “you have to act more positive”, because if you don’t feel positive and are only putting on a show, others will see through that.
Being positive isn’t work of the intellect, it’s work of the heart. That means that emotionally, you need to feel positive to be able to pull off more positivity.
I get it, your job is hard. You might be going through tough times. These things make it easy to blame what’s outside of you for your negative and critical attitude. So what does it take to really lift others up when you don’t personally feel positive?
Spend time with people who lift you up. What better way is there to become more positive than to spend time with people who make you feel good? Since life is about making choices, choose to surround yourself with good people. It isn’t always possible to avoid the negative ones, but you can choose to have an attitude that doesn’t allow you to take on their pessimism.
Do things that lift you up. What lifts you up at work? You may have fallen into a pit of self-pity and despair while forgetting that you can make a choice to coach and develop others or help them in some way that is positive and uplifting. Look for those opportunities. What lifts you up when you aren’t at work? If you’ve lost sight of whatever it is that you do outside of work that helps you to stay grounded and feel at your best, get back to it.
Notice what you are grateful for. Being grateful is getting a lot of attention as a mood-lifter these days, and with good reason. The trick is to build a habit of noticing what you are thankful for, and then capturing it somehow—by telling someone about it or writing it down.
Be present to what’s good. There is almost always a light side to the dark. Even as you’re feeling critical or negative about an employee, can you see what’s good about them? It would be rare for someone to be completely awful. Work hard to find what’s good in them, let them know what you find, and you might be surprised what that does for your mood as well as their performance.
Lifting people up can be as simple—and as hard—as lifting yourself up. Make some choices to take care of yourself first and then you have the possibility of being able to set a more balanced tone for your organization.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a former corporate executive who has spent the past 16 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC.