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Coaching Leadership

Punishing the messenger

Despite our best intentions to not shoot the messenger, more often than not, we end up doing just that. It happens all the time with all of us.

Of course, we know the messenger is only trying to help or pass on information, insights, or suggestions from their perspective. And yet we blow them up! Why? Because we’re not used to thinking that:

  1. Giving recognition is an essential aspect of developing others
  2. Hogging the credit breeds mistrust
  3. Passing the buck won’t make us rich
  4. Making destructive comments doesn’t help anyone and does more harm than good
  5. Thanking or listening goes a long way in building a great team

We essentially take all those elements, those unrecognized behaviors, put them in a blender and add anger to the mix. The resulting concoction is then served cold to the messenger. It is nasty.

And you and I have been guilty of this too. Recall the last time you asked, “what the fuck went wrong?” instead of “what went wrong?” There’s a massive difference between the two questions. The latter is a question, whereas the former is fueled by annoyance, anger, or inconvenience.

If you’re nodding your head, I’m sure you’re wondering how to fix this behaviour. The answer is pretty simple — knowing is the first step towards growing. Now that you’ve recognized this behaviour identify your most recent victims, approach them, apologize for your conduct (don’t worry, you won’t die), and ask them to hold you accountable for not punishing the messenger.

That arrangement usually means that you will approach this person each week, report if you’ve failed to keep your promise or not and ask what can you do to be better. Do this every week, and you can’t help but improve over time. Of course, as with all change, this strategy (called feedforward) takes a whole lot of courage, discipline, and humility for it to work.

Alternatively, you can hire a professional coach who can help with this and the 20 unrecognized leadership behaviours and beyond.