Don’t Say Anything Nice, Please

I was researching some items for a course I am writing and came upon an interesting article giving reasons why you, as a manager, shouldn't let your "high potentials" know that they are considered so.  At first, I read it with interest, thinking in my sleep-deprived state that these ideas made sense.  Then it hit me like a lightning bolt: this article is suggesting, in essence, that you shouldn't tell your best employees they are your best employees.  (You have to understand that my inner self is probably more Machiavelli than Gandhi.  Don't let the zen-like leadership I usually portray fool you).

So re-reading the article, I was pretty aghast at the implication that if you happen to recognize your champion performers by telling them how valuable they are, they could possibly develop an ego, seek opportunities elsewhere, increase their belief that they deserve better compensation, or create the potential for "class warfare".  Mind you that these things do, in fact, happen when some people find out they are doing a great job.  However, it is the ability to be technically competent as well as be helpful, team-oriented, and unselfish that makes you a high performer.  Why wouldn't we want to tell these individuals?  We then reward them by praising their performance, but even better, we find out what they will really be like when they ease into a leadership role.  After all, if just telling them they are doing a great job makes that individual become an egotistical tyrant, I'd rather find that out now rather than after we promote them!

Transparency is important for more reasons than being up front with stakeholders.  Transparency helps those who are coming up through the ranks see the issues of governance in their raw, cold form.  Transparency permits these high achievers see the basic problems and what factors affect solving them. And if we are transparent about who does exemplary work and who does not, as well as who we expect to take on leadership roles and why they are being considered, it would be my hope not that this initiates an underground movement to take the rising star out at the knees, but for others to see what good work looks like and emulate it themselves, in the hopes that they too can rise.  If we see an increase in backstabbing and undermining as a result of talking up one of the team, we have a whole different problem on our hands.

As an enlightened leader, I realize that there are good people I have working with me that are destined for greatness. And while I hope to always be privileged to work alongside them, I also understand that when opportunities form and conditions dictate someone leaving our team, as I always tell them, I support their move if it is going to better their situation.  I don't want to see my eagles leave the nest, but this is a part of growth and maturity.  Instead, I hope when they leave they look back fondly and remember that I supported them in their efforts to get where they are.

Don't let the fear of negative complications ever keep you from praising and rewarding people for doing good work.  The thought that this is an acceptable leadership strategy is pretty abhorent to me, and while I can see what the writer was trying to say, he should have probably written it as satire.  Praise individuals when they do a good job and when they see that you value their contribution, it will, if the enviornment is right, foster trust and loyalty.  And I'll take that kind of high performing activity every time.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

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Thanks! I will add that!
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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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