Praise in Public, Punish in …

[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:

  1. Is seen as respectful and as fair.
  2. Reduces unnecessary peer pressure.
  3. Easier to communicate relevant rules, the reasoning for the punishment, and desired effects.
  4. Less emotional.
  5. 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.

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  1. http://pmeth.com/Leadership%20Is%20Not%20Easy.htm
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Praise in Public, Punish in …

  1. Willie Shrumburger

    I grew up in the 1990s when the prevailing idea was that everyone was special and we were “god’s gift to the world.” How wrong was that!? Now look at kids today that think this and MORE. They believe something and they think it’s true no matter what and anyone who disagrees with them is evil. That is what we’ve grown into to. How sad it is.

    Reply
    1. JT Patterson

      I think you on the right track here, Willie. Thanks.

      Reply
    1. Len Jakosky

      Key quote:
      “Private criticism is important in order to be kind and clear. Radical Candor is not the same thing as “front-stabbing”, and it’s much kinder to criticize someone in private. Public criticism can feel unnecessarily harsh. Private criticism will also be more clear because it’s much less likely to trigger a person’s defense mechanisms. Defensive reactions make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and to learn from it.”

      Reply
    2. Roger Yellowmule

      Good one, thanks Len for sharing this article. I’m sure there are many more with the same theme.

      Reply
  2. Dale Paul Fox

    Ahhhh, a beautiful Saturday morning with the birds chirping and the dog sleeping at my side. And now I’m on my computer reading this article and think, ‘wow, I’ve got it made.’ No more people yelling at me. Yes, I was in the US Army and glad I did it. I’m also happy I don’t have to do it any more.

    Reply
  3. Gil Johnson

    I think Gen. Satterfield’s main point here is that when punishment is used, it should be done in private.

    Reply
    1. Nick Lighthouse

      When my dad whipped my butt with a belt (in the bedroom away from the others) my brothers and sisters could still hear me scream. I don’t think that really worked out well. When I got bigger than my dad, it didn’t work any more.

      Reply
      1. Eric Coda

        Rather harsh but that is how it used to be done back before the 1970s. Well, how have we turned out?

        Reply
        1. Anita

          Much more complex than this dichotomy. Psychologists will be studying this forever. They are helping us refine the way we treat others in order to get the maximum worth from each person.

          Reply
    2. Wilson Cox

      I agree. We are talking about adults here, for the most part, and they respond better to punishment away from their peers. Anything else might be construed as being disrespectful or at least less disrespectful. Good article today, Gen. Satterfield. Keep up the good works.

      Reply
  4. Harry B. Donner

    This is the simple carrot and stick approach that works pretty good. Not always the best methodology for getting people to perform better but it’s been around since the beginning of mankind and will continue. What I like about it, is that it works! That is the first test of any method, “does it work?” If the answer is yes and there are no obvious problems, then go for it.

    Reply
  5. Army Captain

    Good article and a well-developed, proven, accepted method of getting things done that doesn’t require a lot of thinking.

    Reply
    1. Georgie M.

      Yep, and I think we learn this first from our parents. Those that fail to learn it will have a difficult time in life.

      Reply
    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Thanks for your service, Army Captain. I appreciate your comments to confirm what is written here.

      Reply
      1. Lady Hawk

        Good to see you back, Yusaf. Hope all is well with you and your family.

        Reply

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