Hey Leaders: Criticism Bites!


When an employee makes a poor decision, you as a leader may be tempted to criticize them or their actions. This is especially likely if there is a pattern of poor decision making.

You do this, after all, because you want to stop this pattern of behavior…

Criticism Bites!

When the employee fails again, you criticize more or harder. You feel like you’re not being heard or you’re being openly defied. You feel like you’re being attacked.

And naturally, the receiver of the criticism also feel attacked.

But what most reactionary leaders do not take the time to consider is the adverse effects the criticism can have on the person being criticized. They simply react with hurtful speech; expect changed behavior; and forget that their harsh and hurtful tongue-lashing ever happened.

They leave their victim to heal their own wounds without any regard for the damage that was done. Reactionary leaders who criticize don’t understand that their venomous criticism can have an almost toxic effect on the body.

More often, it leads to worse performance, motivation, and engagement.

And, they generally don’t understand, nor care, that their criticism rarely generates improved performance.

Vicious Cycle of Criticism

  1. The leader repeatedly criticizes or blames an employee for a particular decision, behavior, or performance.
  2. The employee may accept some responsibility for a particular outcome, but feels undeserving of the amount or degree of criticism. The employee takes on a victim mentality, leading to resistance to change, expectations of further abuse, and feelings of righteousness.
  3. In order to avoid criticism, the employee may delay or fail to report problems in the future.
  4. The employee’s delay or failure to report problems incites the leader to criticize more, which leads to even worse employee performance, motivation, and engagement.

Criticism Kills :: Feedback Builds

It is certainly necessary to provide constructive feedback to your employees.

You do not have to be mean, however, to help others understand that what they have done has not been effective or efficient.

Rather than level criticism, ask the employee to evaluate his or her work and propose a solution for the future. It is amazing how insightful people can be about their own work, especially if the objectives or goals are clear and they don’t feel attacked.

Can you share a story where you have seen the cycle of criticism show up in an organization? I would love to hear how your story played out!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here!
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Gary B. Cohen
Gary Cohen is Author, Speaker (on leadership) & Executive Coach at CO2 Partners
He serves clients with executive coaching and leadership coaching services

Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

Image Sources: co2partners.com

Related Posts:

Have Your Former Organization’s Innovators Become Laggards

Regrettable Leadership

Amygdala Hijacking

5 responses to “Hey Leaders: Criticism Bites!

  1. Great article!

    Not all criticism comes out as loud hurtful words. Sometimes the words are delivered in a pleasant or sarcastic way. The injury can be slow because it is gradual as the employee interprets the intent of the words spoken. I worked for a boss who was never mean, but she certainly wasn’t supportive either. She just had her way of doing things that did little to nothing for motivating most of her team. She motivated her favorites, just not the rest of the team.

    I only provide this as an insight, not an attack on my former boss.


  2. Pingback: On Leadership and The Force of Connection « Linked 2 Leadership·

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.