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Did I just catch you doing something right?

Communicators are privileged in being not only well-positioned to critique their leaders, but expected to. Our job isn’t just drafting that announcement, designing that event, directing that video. It’s also about creating a communications feedback loop for continuous improvement, whether through data metric, collated comments or personal judgement.

Sometimes that means being prepared to give negative feedback - in the words of comms expert Steve Crescenzo, being prepared to tell the CEO they have an ugly baby. That’s important because if they don’t hear it from you, they’ll likely never hear it at all and never have the opportunity to improve.

That said, an equally useful way to critique is to catch them doing something good and encouraging them to do it more. After all, as elevated as your leader might be, they are human, with all the insecurities, blindspots and weaknesses that go with that. Even the best need some reassurance, nudging and encouragement.

Shortly after his arrival, I noticed one of my leaders had a habit of sometimes blanking people he didn’t know. In rushing between meetings, he could inadvertently miss a colleague trying to catch his eye. Rather than risk making him overly self-conscious, I helped engineer a situation where he was forced to acknowledge a friendly (yet assertive) colleague. Next time we met, I waxed lyrical about how delighted she was that he’d spent a few moments with her. Coincidence or not, over the following weeks he did this more often.

A caveat: praising the leader should be done sparingly. Senior leaders are usually not short of people showering them with compliments, much of it is empty flattery. The purpose of praising upwards is not to boost feelings but to reinforce behaviours. Praise works best when it is genuine, selective, merited - and from a trusted source. That’s you, by the way.

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