Ignoring a wrong behavior is not much different than endorsing it

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on September 7, 2011 · 4 comments

What do you do when you see one of your directs exhibiting the wrong behavior? Do you react? Do you pretend you didn’t notice? Do you call it out immediately?

There is a common phrase, which I don’t is well understood, that states: “praise publicly, criticized privately.” While I do believe that actual criticism should be private, I do not mean that correcting wrong behaviors should be as well. Here’s why:

Every time that you see the wrong behavior and ignore it, as a leader that is an implied endorsement of that same behavior.

This obviously is not the intention of the leader, but we must view our actions through the lens of the observer. In the observer;s mind, seeing and ignoring is equivalent to an endorsement.

Correcting behavior

Tim McMahon, lean thinker and blogger at A Lean Journey, lives by the mantra “you deserve what you tolerate.” He adds:

In other words, if you notice something wrong and you don’t stop and say something then you are essentially condoning it. In a lean environment we strive for a respectful workplace, one where we manage our interpersonal relationships in a positive manner. In a respectful workplace concerns, criticisms, and conflicts are openly raised, are focused on methods for accomplishing the work, and are discussed in a respectful manner.

Tim’s point emphasizes that while criticism in public can often be deemed as a lack of respect for people, ignoring wrong behaviors is a much larger violation of lack of respect for people.

Shawn Patterson, a leader at DTE Energy and a guest blogger here, has this to add to help deliver the feedback in the correct manner:

Leaders need to have the situational awareness to notice moments where a lack of response implicitly endorses behaviors counter to our value system. One way to make the delivery of criticism easier and reduce the sting for the receiver is to focus on the specific behavior, and avoid the judgement of the person and their personal values. 

What does this leadership behavior look like? This can be picking up trash that you see left on the ground, but also commenting to those walking in front of you that they should have done the same. This is asking somebody not to guess about the cause of the problem when trying to contribute during a meeting.

Do you strike a balance between avoiding criticism and unintentionally endorsing wrong behaviors?


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