When “But” Makes you a Sphincter-Leader

Sphincter-leaders unwittingly throw cold water on enthusiasm.

A happy employee catches you in the hall. “Project ‘A’ is going well,” they report. It’s obvious they feel good. You’re a sphincter-leader when you say, “But.”

“But, don’t forget project ‘B’ is falling behind.”

Donkey drawing


You’re worried about the next project, they’re celebrating the last. You fear happiness is kin to complacency.

Next week, when they seem disengaged, you wonder what happened. But, you’re the sphincter-leader who discouraged them.

Sphincter-leaders fear celebrations. Successful leaders join them.

Falling Short:

Let them enjoy a small success, even if it makes you pucker. Progress always falls short.

The nature of incremental success is its not enough.

You won’t get where you want to go by complaining about how far you’ve come.


Celebrate with those who celebrate.

Don’t add to their to-do list when they’re celebrating a milestone. Don’t point out what’s wrong when they’re excited about what’s right.

Sphincter-leaders correct when others celebrate.

What happens to a two year old when they show you an ugly drawing and you praise them? They run to draw more. Leaders who respond to enthusiasm with correction, criticism, or more to do, douse flames. When you don’t celebrate with them, they disengage.

Affirmations engage. Persistent corrections isolate.

Rather than, “But,” engage by saying:

  1. What’s making your project go well?
  2. What’s working?
  3. Tell me more.
  4. Who contributed to success? What did they do?

Fuel enthusiasm by exploring progress.


Sphincter-leaders can’t separate correction from celebration.

Constant complaints about slow progress won’t increase speed. Persistently pointing out what’s wrong doesn’t ignite passion. It’s OK to celebrate once in a while.

Separate correction from celebration. Make improvements and challenge short-falls tomorrow.

How do leaders throw cold water on others?

How can leaders celebrate past successes without losing sight of future goals?