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.”
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.
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:
- What’s making your project go well?
- What’s working?
- Tell me more.
- 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?
Best blog title of the year.
I’ve seen leaders that throw cold water by asking about the outliers/exception scenario that you didn’t specifically cover. Like they want to seem smarter with a “gotcha”.
Recognition with challenge for more might look like, “what an amazing focus of hard work. You helped us achieve our goals with measurable quality. What’s next on your plate? I’m excited to hear what you’re looking to accomplish/change next.”
Thanks James. The title makes me a little uncomfortable, but something in my enjoys it at the same time.
Love how you integrate acknowledgement and pushing for next steps. It’s a delicate balance because too much of either activity diminishes the other. Too much pushing for next steps devalues progress. Too much celebration of progress and we lose sight of next steps.
Ha ha! I think I may have been guilty of this once or twice myself, but there are some S-L specialists out there, empowered to say “No” but who have never been known to take a risk by saying “Yes”!!
Thanks Will. I see S-L behaviors all the time. Leaders don’t mean to do it but we are consumed with preventing problems, fixing issues, and pressing on to the next thing. In the processes we hardly dare celebrate progress. We feel if we did, we’d lose forward momentum. But, if celebration is done right, it fuels momentum.
Hey, it would be great fun to have a SNL S-L episode or series of “employee counseling sessions” – can you imagine Belushi as Samauri Manager working with Chevy Chase or Dan Aykroyd as “employee with good idea but in need of coaching?”
No buts about it. (grin)
Love is Scott. Thanks for the reminder of Belushi and the Samurai series. Totally awesome!!
Hmmm… a Samurai-Leader series would be hilarious.– Leaders who do everything with a Samurai sword.
“We don’t need no stinking TV show.”
We got REALITY we can use for comedic relief, I guess.
Just saw Wanted where the main character is being brutalized by his bullying boss while all the other office employees stand up from their cubicles and watch… I am guessing that the real world for a lot of people is reality TV in nature…
Don’ think I’m going to be too popular with my opinion here, but I have a slightly different view:
Who on earth would go into a bar looking at people celebrating anything and spoil the moment (without risking a beating? 🙂 )? No one.
The “BUT”s in my personal professional experience never come in a real celebrating situation, when the celebration is a conscious activity. These discouraging “BUT”s usually happen in environments that don’t plan and give time (and funds – although these are less important in my experience) for celebrations.
In this case people would come with their positive thoughts in meetings that were probably not planned for celebrations but for status reviews, issue resolution. I would never wonder I get a “BUT” in such a meeting, when I’m trying to show how good we were on something else.
Also why the hack would I try to celebrate anything by walking up to my manager rather than going with the manager and the whole team and have fun in some great activity?!
Celebration is definitely a responsibility, a part of a business project. Let’s not leave it out from the planning, or if so, let’s try to update the plan. “BUT” don’t try to celebrate success in a bar full of mourning people…
Thanks Gabor. If I understand you perspective, who would interupt a group celebration with some rediculous “but?” Good point. Only a real fool.
Having said that, I consistently see leaders engage in de-motivating activities. My perspective in this post was more about one-on-one conversations.
Regardless, I appreciate where you are coming from.
Hey Dan, I agree, the one-on-one conversation technique and “ethics” is something that should be trained to all people in leadership positions. I saw some good examples in different companies for such training programs, and I heard about some very bad scenarios, where the leader definetily had no idea on those techniques.
A one-on-one clearly shows the true qualities of a leader!
Thanks Gabor. Some of us may view leaders from a public viewpoint and forget the importance and power of micro-conversations. Frankly, a casual conversation in the hallway can have powerful impact. Glad you stopped in.
Try not to be a “Debbie Downer”! Give credit when credit is due and enhance the workers, by requesting their input on what in will take to get project “B” moving forward! The high and mighty approach may leave you “grasping for straws”, someday because you broke the “Camels back”!
Powerful Tim. Thanks! Breaking the camel’s back is a great metaphor. People are already working hard and carrying the load. Make it easier not harder.
Great post. Equally true for parents and teachers!
Love the line “Progress always falls short”- So important to remember this.
Progress deserves celebration – even if simply in recognition/ acknowledgement. Chronic “not good enough” reactions- throw cold water on enthusiasm, and will eventually extinguish effort or initiative altogether. When a baby takes his or her first step- parents typically clap and cheer. This gives the toddler the encouragement to try again. The parents don’t dissect the step and correct.
Progress deserve its own recognition or celebration. Might coaching and guidance toward the larger goals or other goals be contained for a later discussion. Unqualified celebration/encouragement fuels effort.
Why not take a moment to simply celebrate the progress, knowing that tomorrow you will review future goals and whats left to do?- For now… simply share in the enthusiasm…with a generous “great job… keep up the good work!”
Thank you for another wonderful post!
Please keep them coming!!
Have a great day!
I do that, too. I have a hard time taking a breath and enjoying what I have gotten done because of what is left on the list. Maybe I need to put an item on my list that says, “stand back and enjoy what you have accomplished today!” 🙂
Thanks Lori. “…tomorrow you will review future goals.”… bingo. That’s it. Give celebration their own space.
This is probably the greatest risk in someone who is a list-maker – real or virtual. You mentally check it off and go to the next thing in line while you are standing there talking. Can you tell I recognize myself? :-/
Thanks Betty. Great insight into a useful behavior – list making – that might go wrong. Much appreciated.
Great message here, and a wonderful reminder for us to be in the moment and acknowledge the good without killing the momentum.
Thanks Roy. Enjoy the good without adding the “bad.”
Three thoughts come to mind:
• BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory
• Three are two T’s in But.
• Improvement is about continuous continuous improvement, so one must keep looking, thinking, testing, trying and implementing to keep rolling forward.
It would seem that balance is a requirement, that we need to recognize and support change and improvement while also extending that gap between where we are and where we need to be. Balance. Simple word that generates complex behavior.
Exactly! I think often it’s laziness on the part of the leader. They’ve had something they’ve wanted to say, or think of something then, but instead of tabling it for later and putting a burden on themselves to do so, they likely think “let’s just get this out now so it’s easier on me… I’m higher in the chain and my time is valuable, right?” I’m not saying this is a conscious decision, but something that happens in the under currents of a larger company where ‘management’ hierarchy becomes the norm, not individual flat-level thinking leadership.
Well, I know from family that some people aren’t lazy but are really just into “constructive criticism,” feeling that those kinds of comments are corrective and HELPFUL. It is simply hard for those people not to try to help you…
In my model of the world, Constructive Criticism is simply an oxymoron, possibly joined by Ethical Leadership, intelligent design, and Elected Representative…
Thank Dr. Scott. There you go with that cool expression..continuous continuous improvement. I often feel uncomfortable with balance. I fear balance becomes bland. But, in this use it makes great sense.
I understand what you’re saying. Don’t quelch a positive attitude when a person is experiencing satisfaction over their personal success. Enjoy the success with the person in the moment, and choose another time to coach.
Nicely said, Calvin. It looks like you have become more concise than me. Congratulations.
I love this! And the 2-year old scenario. There is so much we can learn from kids on how to be better leaders! I hope I have with mine.
Thanks Holly. I enjoy the application of family illustrations to leadership and the application of leadership principles to families. 🙂
I was struck in this post at how it resemebled one of the most remarkable aspects of my training as a Montessori preschool teacher. At the end of each and every lesson, is the instruction, “pause and admire.”
We didn’t tell the children to do this. We simply modeled it ourselves.
I often catch myself and have to remind myself to pause and admire my own work and the work of others around me.
Thanks Mary Lou. The thing I most like about your comment is the idea of planned behavior. We might think that we should be spontaneous. But, spontaneity often falls short because we forget. PLanning helps me choose who I want to be before I actually do it.
Pause and admire – that’s one to remember!
Dan, your post today reminds me of what seems to be a new and major paradigm shift in leadership, education, peak performance, learning, behavior, and personal and professional success and fulfillment. And in a way it has to do with the dismissive word “BUT,” the celebration of short-term accomplishment, the continued focus on macro-fulfillment (future projects), and most of all, the orientation from acquiring skills per se–to becoming “conscientious.”
Over the past several of decades, leaders in almost all disciplines have overemphasized the importance of IQ, cognitive skills, and “being like everyone else” when considering success. Conscientiousness can be a more important measure of academic and professional success than cognitive ability, for example. Conscientiousness is a mixture of many character qualities, involving self-control, determination, punctuality, empathy, self-regulation, being able to control impulses, and delay of gratification. In terms of psychological traits, it is the most predictive of positive outcomes and future behaviors…like peak performance, getting through a lot of school, project completion and success, staying married, etc.
And all these achievements are highly correlated to conscientiousness. For example, because the conscientious are inwardly driven and do not try harder because of external incentives or celebrations, the word “BUT” does not affect conscientious persons. Yes, they compete because they can be competitive, but conscientious persons “try hard” no matter what.
Leadership critique (not criticism) and relationship is how conscientiousness is nurtured. We can’t mold people, but we can UNFOLD others. When others believe they need, want and can change, they actually do better. They work harder. A change to conscientiousness can be made a simple change of habit. People often think character is something that is fixed and can’t be changed; but we can change our habits. In fact, character and habits are interrelated.
Conscientiousness always happens through close relationships—a connection with a
mentor or teacher. If a person is having problems with others, dealing with failure, or dealing with a project, there is a conscientiousness gap. What’s needed is feedback…repeated feedback.
What’s remarkable is how fast the conscientious improve. What they want is a teacher who is paying close attention to their strengths and weaknesses and not letting them get away with mistakes; and pushing them to improve. This is an incredibly effective way to learn things and to build conscientiousness. And on the flip side, if we don’t get people to look actually and honestly at their mistakes, analyze them, and figuring out what they could have done differently–they just get stuck in a rut and stay at the same level, or worse.
So, while the word “BUT” voids everything said before, watch for conscientiousness among peak performers, and the most improved—and as the common quality of fulfillment, success and prosperity.
Thanks Book. Wow! I respect you though-filled response. There’s a little nugget that jumped out at me… WE can mold but we can unfold. Cheers
Thanks Dan, I like the post. You make such a great point because without the consideration of what others are feeling, we may even unintentionally squash their sense of accomplishment with a follow-up question about may have been missed. Recognize effort and success, then if necessary, come back to follow-up with questions when the time is right. Thanks again.
Just so true !