Where seldom is heard a discouraging word?


Language has the power to influence thoughts and actions. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affects how we and they think and act.

This is a lesson that we should always keep in mind. Either as leaders or as followers, and particularly as parents, our words make a difference.

Words are especially influential when repeated. Repetition forms patterns that become locked into our long-term memory. The Dutch have a saying “herhaling is de toverkracht van de reclame,” which translates loosely as “repetition is the magic power of advertising.” This is a powerful statement. I can still recall many ads from the 60’s and 70’s, when ads were well-written and the dialog and the music were original and focused. This is because of repetition that occurred. Repetition gives ideas staying power.

I also recall many things that were repeated to me over the years, seriously and in jest, both positive and negative. They are etched in my memory. And I can think of some leaders and supervisors who simply dwelt on the negative. They utilized a reverse-sandwich technique in giving criticism. Their failure messages still resound in my head.

The lesson for leaders is that some things bear repeating; others should not be repeated.

Disapproval is far more powerful than approval. It is also more common.

If you have to continually repeat criticisms, maybe you need to take another look at yourself. You are probably an ineffective leader, and it is certain that what you are doing isn’t working. More often than not, the underperforming individual needs some coaching and encouragement, and then he or she will begin to improve.

It should also be taboo to repeat complaints. Complaints suck the energy out of a team. They create apprehension and stifle creativity.

As a leader, the things you should be repeating are encouragement, sincere praise and thanks. And if you must repeat anything else, why not repeat solutions and visions? The failure messages have to go. Your repeated phrases should be validating and serve to guide the individual down the desired path, with a vision of the intended destination.

Repeated criticism and complaints become like the drone note in some musical styles. Are you familiar with the drone note? I believe the drone is one of the main reasons that people don’t like listening to bagpipes. If you drone on and on, people won’t like listening to you, either.


A great leader is at home on the range, where seldom is heard a discouraging word.

[1] Photo from Kathleen M. Isabell, who notes: A helpful Exit sign on I-94 in western North Dakota directs the deer and the antelope to where they are supposed to play. There are no services at this exit. – See more at: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8443#sthash.vxgpNZG7.dpuf . There is actually a rehab center at this exit, not an attraction. So where do the deer and the antelope go to play?

Overcoming the Shoe Drop Syndrome

I have followed Dan Rockwells’ Leadership Freak Blog for some time, and I have benefited from reading his posts. This one is particularly good. In part because I have an intense dislike for the critique sandwich. The praise always comes across as insincere. And I prefer a good roast beef sandwich to a bologna (baloney) sandwich any day.

Dan’s insights here are profound, and I will change my approach because of it. That is why I share it here with you.

Recall Carnegie’s admonition to be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” The baloney sandwich is neither.

If you enjoy this, check out Dan’s other posts at Leadership Freak. He is at a place where I am striving to be with my blog.

Here’s Dan on giving praise properly:

Shoe drop syndrome: Waiting for the bad news, after receiving the good.

Manipulative leaders use praise as the channel to give the bad news that’s really on their mind. Everyone ignores the good, and waits for the other shoe to drop.

search for the good

Feedback sandwich:

The feedback sandwich is filled with baloney.

You start and end with praise and slip the baloney in between. Go ahead, use praise as a courtesy, when delivering tough news, but don’t expect it to stick.

If the only praise you give is in preparation for bad news, you’re a jerk.

Search for the good. The stink finds you all by itself.

10 ways to look for the good:

  1. Schedule a daily walk about to look only for praiseworthy behaviors. Take 15 minutes every day this week to bring it up and brag it up.
  2. Use language that expresses emotion. I’m so proud to work here when I see ______.
  3. Think about things that are running smoothly. What isn’t broken?
  4. Seize imperfect moments to offer imperfect praise. Don’t wait for the perfect moment.
  5. Compliment small things. If you wait for the big stuff, you wait too long.
  6. Complete this sentence. I respect you for ______.
  7. Acknowledge effort as well as achievement.
  8. When you see behaviors you want more of, complement it right then.
  9. Who gets along, serves, speaks truth to power, or goes the extra mile?
  10. Use virtual channels if your team is spread across the globe.

Bonus: Ask, “What’s working?”

Look for:

  1. Energy.
  2. Reliability.
  3. Creativity.
  4. Loyalty.
  5. Endurance.
  6. Integrity.
  7. Skill.


Pour energy into contributors.

Don’t allow poor performers to consume your time, attention, and energy. Give them a chance. Help them step up. Offer training. But, don’t let compassion or hope be the reason you neglect high performers.

Focus on high performers and people who are growing, if you want great achievement.

How might leaders aggressively search for the good?

Re-posted from: Leadership Freak