If you’ve read, Call & Response Coaching, you understand that leaders can and must influence and empower High Commitment and enable High Performance in two ways—with skillful Reinforcement and Redirection.
Both approaches of the Call & Response model are necessary. But lately I see research attempting to answer the question, Is there a proper or optimum ratio of Redirection and Reinforcement that a leader should aim to achieve?
According to analysis presented in The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, high-performing teams received almost six positive comments for every negative comment in tests conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada and reported in American Behavioral Scientist. Medium performers heard about twice as many positive rather than negative comments. And low performers received almost three negative comments for every positive one.
With statistics like these, conscientious leaders may be tempted to aim for some sort of ideal ratio of praise to criticism. Six-to-one for high performers. Two-to-one for medium performers. One-to-three for poor performers. Resist the temptation!
You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.
I’ve been all over digging up praise-to-criticism ratios. I found confident recommendations starting at 2-to-1 and climbing all the way to the current HBR observation of 6-to-1.
If you and your leaders know your employees as intimately as you should, you do not need to follow a ratio. You know exactly how much Reinforcement and Redirection to offer each individual. You will use Reinforcement to keep great performers performing well and apply Redirection to get mediocre and poor performers to step up their game. And you will apply each in the appropriate proportion.
In theory I suppose it’s possible to arrive at an optimum ratio of Reinforcement and Redirection. And it’s certainly worth your effort to build skills that balance criticism with praise. But you will succeed or fail as a leader based not on theory but on how well you manage your personal relationships.
Leadership Intimacy, the intimate and accurate understanding of self and others, should be your primary tool for engaging the full potential of all your employees.