Language of Leadership: Constructive Versus Destructive

constructive versus destructive criticism

On February 3rd Jeremy Kinsley was a guest on Entrepreneur’s Insight radio show. He talked about how inspired leaders produce results. I had the pleasure of being the follow up guest.

The host, Kip Marlow and I spent some time exploring how leaders communicate. While many people are given the title of leader, a lot of them don’t elicit results because they don’t communicate in a way that inspires action and results.

Having studied leaders for several years there are three distinct behaviors that I see real, impactful leaders engage in.

Language of Leadership

1. Constructive Versus Destructive Communication

Constructive Communication:

Good leaders communicate in a way that elevates people instead of tearing others down. These leaders seek to solve problems and create long term solutions. When their focus is on improvement they speak openly, honestly, and consistently. They always have their eye on progress and success.

Constructive communication drives performance. It’s foundation is that the employee is capable and driven but has run into a snag. Working with them on that snag with a goal of removing it leads to greater results.

When someone is guided to identifying why something has happened and how they can change, they are likely to embrace the lessons and grow as an impactful member of the team.

Destructive Communication:

People who communicate destructively have changed the goal. Whether they realize it or not, their focus is on making someone else feel small.

When people feel small – they don’t perform to the height of their ability. They are not motivated to succeed.

2. Seek Input

True leaders seek the input of others. They understand that they don’t have all of the answers; that leadership isn’t about having all of the answers, it’s about finding the answers. Leaders also understand that one of the ways they grow their staff is to ask for their input.

When you include others in the conversation you are telling them you trust them and believe in them. Leaders understand that not all input will be actionable. That’s not the point. The point is to get everyone thinking about growth, solutions, and success.

Better to solicit their input – than to always be telling them. People respond to being communicated with more than being talked to. They are also more likely to follow through with a plan they have had a role in creating.

3. Engage in Difficult Conversations

There are times when a staff member is unable to meet the requirements and goals of the organization no matter how hard they try. And, truly, there are times when an employee isn’t a fit or is behaving in a way that is contrary to the goals of the company.

A true leader addresses this situation directly with the employee. A true leader doesn’t emotionally react to the issue by sending a blast email to all of the team members. A true leader also doesn’t avoid dealing with it.

A true leader engages in difficult conversations right away and directly with the person involved. Leaders realize that difficult conversations aren’t mean or unpleasant conversations. There are unemotional, fact-based ways to communicate seemingly difficult topics. Leaders also understand that their responsibility is to deal with issues as soon as they present themselves.

This is how they tell the rest of the staff that the goals of the company are paramount.

Example of a Non-Leader: Destructive | No Input | Emotion Filled

A sales manager calls a member of the sales team into their office and begins to berate him for a lack of sales. Everyone in the department can hear the sales manager even though the door is closed. Besides the fact that the sales manager is emotional and yelling at the salesman, he/she is also criticizing him and using negative pejorative labels like “lazy,” “inept” and “stupid.” He/she ends the diatribe with a threat to the salesman’s employment status.

The result: The salesman is not only unmotivated to proceed but doesn’t know what to do to improve. The salesman hasn’t learned anything and he wasn’t brought into the conversation. Actually, there was no conversation – it was a one sided push. The salesman is no further along the problem solving road than he was when he entered the office.

Moreover, the rest of the sales staff has been negatively impacted by the event. So, the sales manager has created more problems while not solving the lack of sales issue.

Example of a Leader: Constructive | Seeks Input | Unemotional

A sales manager calls a member of the sales team into their office to discuss the salesman’s lack of sales. The first thing the sales manager does is ask the sales person to share his experience. How is he approaching the process? Where is he running into a disconnect? How is he communicating with prospects and clients?

The sales manager then starts a collaborative conversation around alternative processes. The goal is to help the salesman create a different process that should bring greater results.

The result: Together they create a process the salesman can implement. The entire conversation is focused on problem solving. The salesman leaves the conversation with a plan and a belief that he can succeed at the plan.

The rest of the sales staff understands that the goal is for everyone to be successful; that when the salespeople are successful the company will be.

The difference matters because of the outcomes. When someone behaves like example 2, they are leading the organization and realize positive results. When they behave like example 1, the organization struggles to grow.

Anyone in a leadership role is better off communicating in a constructive, unemotional way that elicits involvement and buy-in. Then they will be a leader who others want to follow.

Anger Photo via Shutterstock

10 Comments ▼

Diane Helbig


Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day Coaching. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

10 Reactions

  1. Having worked in a company, I can completely relate to the fact that some leaders can get destructive. They think that by instilling fear, they will enable their employees to move. But this has the opposite effect as it will push employees to look for another job once they are given the opportunity.

    • Diane Helbig

      Exactly! Yesterday I heard about a company where the supervisors don’t train their new hires and then fire them when they don’t perform. Crazy

  2. Even though it’s tough to admit it, in the past I’ve failed miserably in leadership roles. Usually it’s because I have tended to go from one extreme to the other – trying to be everyones best friend, or trying to be their boss.

    In the last 9 months, I’ve bought two incredible remote team members on to my team. And with a mixture of clear direction, autonomy, praise, additional reward, and constructive feedback, they always over deliver.

    I don’t necessarily want a large team where I am the ‘leader’, but learning how to lead, inspire, manage change and motivate, are essential skills to learn for any business professional or entrepreneur.

    • Diane Helbig

      Congratulations! It’s so great to be able to see how our actions impact the outcomes and then be able to change and therefore change the outcomes. Sounds like you are on your way!

  3. Hi,
    Nice and concise article.
    Thank you!

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