9. Praise Publicly and Punish Privately – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Nine

Praise Publicly and Punish Privately

Admonish your friends privately, but praise them openly.


Publilius Syrus

Praise is easily the one thing most appreciated by human beings, while criticism is the hardest thing to digest. Leadership is a challenging task, and it is tough to manage people with different egos, emotions and feelings. It is even tougher to manage the people who perform poorly. That is why companies take a lot of care during recruitment itself to recruit the right candidates by following the slogan: hire for attitude and recruit for skill.

Even after a thorough selection process, we sometimes find the wrong people entering into employment. At times they ruin the work culture, thereby causing damage to the organizations. The role played by leaders comes into the picture especially while handling such people. They need to be corrected to bring about behavioural changes among them. They need to be criticized in private cabins so that they fall in line with the mainstream for organizational excellence and effectiveness. This is one side of the story.

The other side of the story is that people who are hardworking must be given prompt pats on the back so that others learn from them and replicate similar behaviour. Ella Wheeler Wilcox rightly noted, ‘A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.’ People’s craving goes beyond money. Money has little role to play in motivating employees. In fact, people look for recognition and appreciation. The leaders must realize this inherent human need and catch the people doing well and applaud them. This is the biggest motivator of all—praise in front of others. They feel that they are worth it, and it motivates them to reach their tipping point. However, excessive praise and criticism boomerangs in the long run. Here are the tips that help to praise and criticize people constructively.

Tips to Praise and Criticize

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.

Frank A. Clark

  • Praise enhances positive behaviour and helps in replicating similar behaviour among others. While praising, be specific, otherwise it will be treated as flattery. You need to be specific and objective in your praise and you must praise promptly to motivate others. For instance, you can say, ‘Nice work, Beth! The way you did your work with finesse is amazing. Keep it up!’ It reminds other employees about your expectations from them.
  • Don’t play favourites while praising, as it boomerangs. Praise the deserving people by clearly specifying their performance and achievements.
  • Praise immediately and criticize later. Praise is a positive stroke while criticism is a negative one. When you praise immediately, it will have a better impact on the individuals. When you want to criticize, take a little longer, as you will be able to modify your thought process and criticize the behaviour of the individuals. While criticizing, never attack the individual; attack only the behaviour.
  • Don’t criticize when in anger. It is essential to avoid criticism while you are angry as people often attack the individuals then, rather than the behaviour.

Flattery vs. Praise

Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.

William Arthur Ward

Flattery is an extension of praise, which glorifies beyond realities. The intention of flattery is mostly to serve one’s own interests rather than those of others. At times, it could be to fool others. Flattery is an exaggeration of reality. In contrast, praise is factual, with the intention of making others realize their strengths and making them feel comfortable by giving them confidence. It motivates them to move forward. Praise comes from the heart while flattery comes from the lips.

If praise is the true currency, flattery is the counterfeit. Praise elevates you as an individual, while flattery lowers your stature. Hence, flattery should be avoided at any cost. Flattery proves fatal in the long run while praise keeps you firmly on your feet.

Chanakya’s Four-Fold Strategy

Don’t compare people with others as comparing a person with another is an insult. Comparison leads to ill-will among employees. It results in an unhealthy work climate. Chanakya was an ancient Indian political thinker who laid out four ways of getting tasks done: Sama (persuasion), Dana (offer incentives), Bheda (differentiation) and Dandopaya (punishment). He advised people to apply these four methods one after the other, should the first method fail. When you want a task to be done, you persuade people to do it. Usually, it gets done. If the task is not done, then provide incentives or show them the benefits of doing the task. If it still remains undone, then compare them with others who perform better. This certainly works, as people don’t like to be compared with others. The ego within individuals creeps in and makes them perform the task. But if that fails, the fourth and final weapon is to punish them for non-execution of tasks.

Charles M. Schwab once remarked, ‘I have yet to find the man … who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.’ It is true that people prefer to work when praised promptly. And at the same time, they prefer to be corrected privately. The days of command and control no longer work in this century. People appreciate leaders who hold their hands, correct them and carry them forward. People don’t like to work under leaders who insult them in the presence of others. To err is human. Hence, leaders must learn to praise the performances of their people in public and criticize them privately in order to correct and guide them towards organizational excellence and effectiveness.