When I look back on all the jobs I’ve had, the ones that have given me the most sleepless nights have in common a continual fear of being criticized. An email from the “boss” or a request to go to their office could send me spiraling down an anxiety hole that made it difficult to even focus on what they were actually trying to say to me.
Conversely, the jobs I love had none of this. I felt supported in my decisions and knew that my boss “had my back” when I made decisions and even took risks. Even if there was a question about why I did this or decided that, we had a conversation based on curiosity, not criticism.
Criticism, and the constant fear of criticism, kills creativity because creativity requires a sense of safety. Safety is not possible when you are in a constant state of dread that you will be corrected.
Criticism also kills collaboration because working together requires trust and openness to explore new possibilities. When groups fear criticism, they are not willing to throw out new ideas or take chances. Instead, they do exactly what they are told.
The expectation and common experience of having a critical “boss” stems from an underlying cultural assumption that people with more authority have superior intellect, judgment and experience compared to their subordinates. It assumes the boss is always right and employees must be taught how to do their jobs correctly.
The presumed superiority of “superiors” (it’s even in the language!) is so strong that supervisors who are not even intending to be critical will be perceived as such because for most of us the fear and dread left behind by past experiences, lingers. Bold leaders must go out of their way to be supportive and provide safety for employees to counteract the fear of criticism and change the culture of management.
There are countless ways to do anything. If we want creative employees and collaborative teams, we must change the culture of management to allow more paths to get our organizational goals. Supporting employees and “having their backs” even when we would have taken different paths is a great place to start.
For more radical ideas on leadership and how to create a work environment that is creative and collaborative, see my book, Management Culture: Innovative & Bold Strategies to Engage Employees at mgmtculture.com or on amazon.com.