I was recently asked what I like about working where I work. I responded, “I don’t worry about getting in trouble for doing my job.” I don’t lay awake at night second-guessing my every action, wondering whether I will be “talked to” about how I did this or that wrong, or didn’t consider all of the implications, or include the right people, or didn’t get permission first—all with a parental tone with the message that I messed up—again!
I thought back on all the jobs and bosses I have had over the years and saw the pattern. The jobs I most disliked (even if I liked the work), had a common element—a constant feeling of dread that someone would judge me, my words or my actions, and I would have no opportunity to defend myself, lest I be considered “insubordinate.”
Constant correcting causes employee disengagement. Why work hard, invest your energy and passion if it is constantly criticized? When people feel judged at every turn, they have little inclination to make decisions, act, take risks, or throw out creative ideas.
Frequent criticism, or as we like to say in management, “employee coaching,” is too often used to keep power dynamics in favor of those who have the most, feeding their egos and reinforcing their sense of superiority, but it is not good for employees, morale, the organization or the bottom line.
This is not to say all coaching is bad. If it comes from a place of generosity and it is allowed/encouraged both directions (up and down), feedback can be very powerful, leading to growth and confidence.
One of my favorite bosses, Mary, was a master of positive coaching. I was never afraid when she asked me to come to her office, or when it was time for my annual review.
One of Mary’s favorite lines was, “Assume good intentions” and she practiced what she preached. She always assumed my intentions were good and our work goals were aligned. She encouraged me to take risks and bring my full self at work.
When Mary offered me feedback it was in the form of insights or options for me to consider. “Here is another way to think about that” or “In my experiences, this is what I have observed” or “You might consider checking this out” or “What you are proposing might have these untended consequence.”
Mary was affirming and supportive. She trusted me and believed in me, which motivated me to work harder and engage more. She also asked me for my feedback on how she could be more effective. Our relationship was mutually respectful and beneficial.
I wish everyone could have a boss like Mary. I wish every boss would assume good intentions. Work would be so much more engaging and fun!