Coach or Critic

…which kind of leader are you?

While in my first job, I worked for leader I now believe stunted my early development.  I knew I had much to learn as a “fresh-out” but my boss routinely pointed out my shortcomings without any advice to help me improve.  Comments like, “You’re an idealist,” or “You’re resisting me,” although accurate; provided no insight into alternative pathways or behaviors.

During one stretch she hounded me to deliver a project I knew was doomed. Instead of helping me analyze where the project was stuck, or equipping me to envision a better solution, she pressed me to deploy.  Not knowing how to right the troubled ship, I finally acquiesced and released a flawed solution. She praised me for delivering – but as I presented the solution to my colleagues I knew it was dead-on-arrival.  Candidly, I was embarrassed and angry. I knew this wasn’t my best work. To stand before my colleagues as they respectfully entertained my “throw away” solution… was humiliating. To know with the right coaching I could have done better…was maddening.

It would be easy to over analyze what went wrong here. In my mind it simply comes down to this…I worked for a critic and not a coach.

I don’t fault my first boss for leading me the way she did. In fact, many leaders unwittingly assume the role of pushing their people to perform versus helping them evolve. However, as leaders committed to serving the needs of the people we lead, we must strive for something higher. We must strive to envision an evolved version of our people…and then invite them to join us in pursuing that version of themselves.

In a previous post I talked about helping our people get more WINS at work.  Interestingly, coaches and critics approach our weaknesses, interests, needs and strengths very differently.  Simply put the difference between a coach and a critic is this – a coach refines…a critic opines.



In practice, refining and opining feel radically different to the person being led.  And while it might seem that these two styles could be easily spotted…the differences are sometimes subtle. The table below compares the two styles in a way that  illustrates a stark contrast.



Weaknesses Understand and protect us from them Criticize or are frustrated by them
Interests Know and cultivate them Minimize or disregard them
Needs Acknowledge and tend to them Ignore or misunderstand them
Strengths Leverage and build them Exploit or tax them

To be sure, as leaders we must ensure our teams deliver the results we’re hired to deliver. By assuming the role of coach versus critic we’re effectively elevating the long-term franchise value far faster and higher. As a leader it’s more work in the short-term to operate this way, but our overall results will be stronger and sustainable.  By coaching our people, they become more competent, capable and self-sufficient. Coaching builds stronger benches and puts up more wins along the way.


Question: So which one will it be for you…coach or critic? Please take a moment to share a personal story about either a coach or critic you worked for…and how that leader’s style helped or hindered your development. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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