To the Leader Focused on the Five Percent

Oh, those uplifting leaders who never pass up an opportunity to recognize and celebrate every milestone and achievement! For them, encouraging teammates seems to come as naturally as breathing. They have a gift for identifying and highlighting an individual or team’s progress, no matter how small. And if a big project is 95% successful? Then it’s a complete and total success, end of discussion.

Wait, did that last sentence raise an eyebrow? Then you’re probably a leader who focuses on the five percent.

Leaders who focus on the five percent naturally gravitate toward “what we can do better next time” every time. They’re not pessimistic; they’re just hard-wired with a desire for continuous improvement.

But that might not be how others see you. Leaders focused on the five percent can be seen as negative, critical, harsh, or impossible to please. The problem is when our teammates think they’ll never measure up to our expectations, many will quit trying. If you’re a leader who automatically hones in on that five percent, here are five things to remember.

1. Intentionally focus on the accomplishment or progress first.

Yes, your brain may automatically go to “what we need to improve upon,” and that’s okay. There’s value in answering that question, and you’ll get to that. What your team needs from you right now is for you to point out, encourage, and celebrate their progress or accomplishment.

2. Cut the “but.”

If you always point out the shortcomings, you team might come to expect that behind every praise lurks a “but” that is sure to highlight the one aspect that isn’t quite right. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer constructive criticism. Just don’t hitch your critiques to your compliments.

3. Praise in public, correct in private.

Share individual accomplishments with the team – through emails, stand-up meetings, and other formal or informal gatherings. Save your coaching on improvements for your one-on-ones or other private conversations.

4. Don’t just point out the shortcomings. Seek to learn from them.

It’s easy to point out obvious failures. What’s not obvious is where the breakdown occurred, and how you can avoid it next time. It’s fine to ask, “What did we do wrong?” Just remember to follow that question up with, “What will we do differently next time?”

5. Be aware of how you are perceived.

Of course you’re not a glass-half-empty kind of leader, but that might be how everyone sees you, and as far as your team is concerned, perception is reality. “That’s just the way I am,” isn’t an excuse. Don’t settle for being the leader that your natural tendencies or your mood dictates. Be the leader your team needs you to be.

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