Leaders Know Positive is Different Than Soft

Some people push back when you ask them to take a positive approach in their leadership. They equate positivity with being nice, but being kind is deeper than empty hype like, “Good job” or “Nice work” or “Super!”

You can’t be too kind.

But, I agree you can be too soft. There’s a difference between kindness and softness. In Good to Great, author, researcher, and business consultant Jim Collins urges us to be “rigorous, not ruthless.” Focusing on high standards can be done in a way that is positive. Be rigorous, not ruthless.

It’s dangerous to be nice or sweet while holding people accountable. When we say things like, “Please get your late slides submitted,” or “I am just assuming that all this phone usage has a purpose,” with a smile, it seems passive-aggressive and on the edge of sarcasm. And, as I’ve said several times, sarcasm has no place in effective leadership; it’s cheap and disrespectful.

However, we don’t need to be angry or overly stern either. As we explored last week, research shows that followers who are bought-in and engaged will be more productive and loyal.

Being specific about behaviors is a great way to create clarity and be kind. Saying to the whole staff, “We all need to make sure we stay until the end of the shift” when there’s just one or two people sneaking out early, does not help the cause.

That is soft and negative at the same time; a terrible combination!

Taking aside an employee who skips out early and saying, “You nearly always do good work; you do the most good when you stay till the end of your shift. Around here, we all work our shifts, unless there’s something else going on I don’t know about. Is there anything wrong I need to know about? If not, you need to stay until the end of the shift.” This sort of approach validates the employee’s contribution and enforces high expectations.

When your tone of voice is matter of fact, you won’t be stern or mean. Because we have experienced so much grumpy scolding during our lives, a matter-of-fact criticism becomes part of a positive approach.

The approach that upholds high standards and is specific about behavior is positive, not soft. Stay rigorous, not ruthless.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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