[June 8, 2019] There’s an old but common piece of advice for leaders; praise in public, punish in private. For me (I was always a bit slower at picking up good habits) it meant that when we give someone a reward, it should be done where others can see it. But if we want to punish someone for a transgression, it is best accomplished one-on-one, without others around.
“Praise in public, criticize in private.” – Vince Lombardi, American football coach
The advice is sound. I practiced this approach, as have other leaders across the world and they have found the method both easy to implement, efficient, and effective. Conflict resolution methods are designed to change human behavior for the better; building understanding, empathy, and teamwork. This advice does just that.
Some psychologists, however, argue this is not the case and that punishment should not be used at all; only praise. They believe that punishment not only fails to teach someone to act properly but it also teaches them the importance of not getting caught. Some counter with the comment that a ‘carrot’ cannot be used without the ‘stick’ and also expecting predictable results.
In the military, punishment can be quick and effective; that’s why it’s used. We try to do it privately when possible. Soldiers (including airmen, sailors, Marines, and coast guardsmen) are more sensitive today. Punishing them in private, rather than publically, has a number of advantages:
- Is seen as respectful and as fair.
- Reduces unnecessary peer pressure.
- Easier to communicate relevant rules, the reasoning for the punishment, and desired effects.
- Less emotional.
- Produces better results.
Leadership is not easy.1 This old advice of praising people publically but punishing in private works well, everyone knows the score, and the results are predictable. Good leaders set expectations and clear guidelines to behavior. It is imperative that the leader makes it known that there are rewards for exceptional performance and fair punishment when the rules are not followed.