How many times have you heard, or even said, phrases like the following? You must keep your personal and professional life separate. If someone gets complimented, they will get a big head. Too much praise may cause people to become complacent. It is important to balance positive and negative feedback. We may accept them as truths…but are they really?
These are a few of the statements that came to mind as I listened to Tom Dahlborg present at EntreCon®, which took place November 1-2, 2023. EntreCon is a two-day conference held each November in Pensacola, Florida. Its purpose is to help attendees grow themselves, their organizations, and the community. It is a time for business owners, leaders, and other professionals to connect and learn from each other.
Tom shared several wonderful sayings and phrases. Some of them are adages that have long been accepted. Some were never actually said by the person they are attributed to. Others are shortened sayings that have a completely different meaning when the whole statement is shared.
For example, consider the phrase, “The early bird gets the worm.” The extended phrase is, “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” The second part of the phrase implies that first isn’t always best: The second mouse is actually the one who gets the reward because the first mouse got caught in the trap.
Here is another example: “Great minds think alike.” The extended phrase is, “Great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ.” When you research this phrase, you learn that it is foolish people—not great minds—who are more likely to have the same banal thoughts all the time. In other words, just because two people come to the same conclusion, that doesn’t mean they are all that smart!
As I listened to Tom, I thought of some other statements I have heard over the years. Do we just assume that what we hear frequently is true?
My observation is that when someone wants to believe something, it takes very little research, if any, to accept it as true. If one does not want to believe in something, often no amount of research will change their mind.
Let’s revisit the phrases shared in the first paragraph. Why do leaders buy into these common statements? At times it may be that a leader doesn’t have the skills needed to lead in a different way, so it is better to rationalize a reason not to.
A huge item in employees being engaged where they work is the feeling that the company cares about them. This means they need to feel cared about as a whole person, not just an employee. Sending the message, “Don’t bring your personal life to work,” may make sense at times, but most often it does not. If a person is to feel cared about, we must be happy when their life is going well and empathetic when it is not.
Another part of engagement is a sense of comfort in sharing concerns with one’s supervisor. That also equates to trust. A manager shared with me that a person who worked in her area asked to speak with her privately. The employee shared the challenges she is having with her teenage daughter. The supervisor shared that she, too, has been there. They both had a cry, and the supervisor helped the employee get help. This could not have happened if “personal” and “professional” were kept separate.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t compliment that person; they will get a big head”? This is another common belief that is not true. I have been in healthcare for 40 years. No person has ever come to receive care for an enlarged head due to compliments. While it may sound cute, it is not. People thrive on compliments. On a similar note, I was talking with a person who is in a manager’s role. Their department had great results. I suggested that the manager compliment the people who worked on the project and heard, “I don’t want them to get complacent.” My experience is that people who are recognized do not get complacent. If anything, the opposite occurs; they are even more motivated to do a great job.
The “balance” myth is another one I believed at one time. Go to a search engine and search “compliments to criticism ratio”—what you find may surprise you. I’ve often shared that if a person receives three or more compliments for every criticism, they will feel positive about their leader, 2:1 is neutral, and 1:1 creates a negative perception. Some findings indicate the ratio should be 5:1 or 6:1 or even higher! The point is that the more praise we give, the better people feel about us as leaders and the more motivated they will be. This does not mean backing off on constructive coaching—it is an important part of the leader’s role—but it does mean increasing the positives.
My point? It can be extremely beneficial to take a deeper look at the beliefs we accept without questioning. It is an important part of being a good leader and a lifelong learner.
I would also like to express my appreciation for all those who took advantage of EntreCon 2023. I live in Pensacola and was very excited to see the 300 people at the conference leaning in to learn. The places they work for or own are fortunate. There was also sadness in that so many organizations were not at the event. Maybe they are developing talent on their own. I hope so. The people who work for them deserve a great place to become the best they can be.