10 Ways to Discern Rather than Condemn
Foolish leaders believe pointing out what went wrong inspires people to do better.
You can’t condemn and inspire at the same time.
Discerning leaders hunt for things that are going right. Condemning leaders point out what went wrong.
- Fixate on mistakes.
- Focus on shortcoming.
- Concentrate on failure.
- Obsess over faults.
The lowest form of leadership is pointing out faults after things go wrong.
4 results of condemning leadership:
- Dis-empowered teammates.
- Self-protective attitudes.
- Fear of failure..
- Low energy environments.
Fault-finding is the easy side of discernment. It doesn’t take much to explain what should have been done.
Discerning leaders search for excellence. Condemning leaders find fault.
The highest form of leadership is maximizing potential.
10 ways to be a discerning leader:
- Evaluate to find the good. Anyone can point out the bad.
- Analyze what works.
- Search for what is useful.
- Actively show approval of behaviors that matter.
- Search for useful behaviors to repeat.
- Seek positive tipping points. Discerning leaders dig into successes to uncover simple key factors that makes things work.
- Use purpose to highlight behaviors that matter.
- Make reaching goals easier. Ask your teams how you can help them succeed.
- Engage in behaviors and say words that increase energy in others.
- See the best in people.
Discerning leaders confront when:
- Shared values are violated, as long as those values are clearly known before hand.
- Behaviors fall short, as long as expectations were clear from the beginning.
- Goals aren’t reached, as long as people are equipped and qualified.
Discerning leaders maximize success by taking action before things go wrong. Condemning leaders set expectations after things go wrong.
How might leaders practice discernment on a daily basis?
I’d be interested in how to marry this with technical leadership where I find myself needing to positively move forward and embrase failures as learning opportunities. Often we have an established complex system we’re charged with maintaining and improving.
Blameless post-mortems is a practice I’m wanting to introduce where we set strong ground rules about using the failure to learn rather than blame.
Thanks Mark. I like to use the phrases like:
What are we learning?
How can we be better?
What makes this better?
It’s funny how a simple change in language helps. Rather than “what went wrong…how can we be better.”
Having said that…when people keep failing in the same way, there is definitely an issue. They need to be trained, reassigned, or managed out.
The other idea for post-mortems is to talk about what went well and why it went well and how can we do more of that.
Just some thoughts. Congratulations on working to create a positive work environment.
Pre-mortems are also an interesting tool. Before you start a project, gather everyone together and have them imagine a scenario where the project was a total failure. Then have everyone list what they think went wrong on sticky notes. Post them and affinitize. Then brainstorm what can we do to not let these things happen?
People’s intuition is a powerful thing.
Then, I suppose if something does go wrong everyone will know where the breakdown occurred, and were forewarned that something like that might happen (unless it wasn’t one of the things people listed.)
It’s not meant to point blame, the purpose is to act to prevent problems in the first place.
Dan, how you ever came up with the correlation of “discerning” and “condemning” with respect to leadership God only knows, for they are as far from each other as two words can be—except that you are absolutely correct in your use of them.
Our Lord in scripture tells us that “if we are to be wise, we are to be discerning.” The Greeks—like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates—say we must be “discerning” in order to have joy, happiness, inner fulfillment and virtue—because they say discernment means understanding, sensitivity, perception, recognition, forethought, and the willingness to ameliorate apprehension, anxiety and fear. And what do people fear most? To be blamed, judged, disbelieved…and what people “think” about themselves “inside.”
So, here’s to doing the little things (diligently, patiently, persistently and even playfully) as we cultivate courage, compassion, and connection that help us live wholeheartedly and put our soul in a wonderfully good mood…all because of a bit of discernment.
Thanks Books. You’re comment encourages me. I had always thought about discernment in the context of seeing what is wrong. Including what is right in the context of discernment seems to expand potential. Glad you found it useful.
Sounds very close to “understand rather than judge”, but using the term ‘discernment’ implies a more constructive mature form of understanding which could be wisdom put into action. Likewise judging can be superficial where condemnation can intentionally be put to action to inflict damage, hurt, scapegoat or worse. Great choice of words. I would also note that discerning effective leaders are wise enough to expect sabotage thus better prepared to take constructive action when it arrives, and better yet proactively handle in advance. Thanks Dan.
Thanks Ann. Interesting that you bring up sabotage in the context of discernment. As I wrote this post, I thought about a leaders ability to learn to spot people who are blowing smoke. That ability that comes with experience.
I have been in this situation before and in that situation, it wasn’t ending at condemning but going as far as dismissing people and I think that was the intention. Condemning leaders stifle innovation as people no longer want to go the extra mile. They rather remain in the box where mistakes cannot be made. If you are not allowed to make mistakes, you cannot innovate.
It is true that it is easy to find fault but difficult to find remedy. Effective leaders fall under second category. You are right, finding fault is obsession and self protecting attitude. And it comes from incompetence. When people have incompetence and do not work to overcome it. They invite such behavior. Similarly, when they do not accept their weakness, they develop some kind of ego. They start pointing others and feel safer. In the process, they forget that they stop learning. They stop developing and after sometimes, they find no place. They start downsizing their area of impact.
Leaders need to see bigger picture. People have limitation and hence not expected to be perfect. This helps leaders to practice discernment. When we look for excellence, we might find fault. The reason is simple – we can not become perfect. We need to find development. We need to find progress. And this is the way leaders can unleash potential of people.
You are so right! Setting Clear Expectations up front is a great proactive and preventative step. Making sure your people have the training and resources they need is foundational. These two concepts promote people’s effectiveness and productivity. Thanks, Dan.
Quoting: “Fear of failure.. Fault-finding is the easy side of discernment. It doesn’t take much to explain what should have been done.” Being older than dirt, oh how I remember a number of teachers that seemed to delight in pointing out what should have been done – stoking our fear of failure in school!!!
There are many people to whom I would like to forward this!!!
Thanks Becky. Use discernment!