Teach & Serve II, No. 14 – Negative/Positive

Teach & Serve II, No. 14 – Negative/Positive

November 9, 2016

Part of leadership is to put the positive in perspective while confronting the negative and sorting through it for truth.

A good friend of mine said something very interesting to me a few weeks back: “The negative opinion can seem to be the more informed opinion. Be careful with that.” I’ve considered this comment more than once in the subsequent weeks since he said it and I have not only come to believe that is it true, I also believe that how a leader thinks about this statement says much about how that leader leads overall.

Certainly, leadership gathers reaction. Leadership inspires reaction. Leadership ignites reaction.

And, yes, leaders must contend with the reactions of those being lead – both the positive and the negative reactions. Part of leadership is to put the positive in perspective while confronting the negative and sorting through it for truth. Upon which kind of reaction does a leader spend the most time? Upon which should a leader spend the most time?

positive-negativeThere is a reason – and it is a bad one – that the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is shared with such regularity: because it is true. Those who complain often and loudly get audience, get recognition, get traction. Those who make arguments find themselves in principals’ offices, whether to be heard or to be reprimanded. Those who express the negative are too frequently regarded among the intelligentsia of faculties and staffs.

Remember, negative opinions are not the most informed, but they often seem that way.

Why is that? Whose responsibility is that?

I believe the responsibility, while it is shared, falls far more on the leader than the complainer. How the leader addresses and repairs the squeaky wheel is critical. And how the leader proceeds in the face of negativity and complaints says far more about the leader than the constituents.

If the leader gives equal weight to each complaint with limited ability to discern what is actually central and informed and what is not, the doesn’t speak well of her leadership. If the leader gives too little weight or cannot distinguish what should be handled and what should be turfed, that, too, is a significant problem.

But the leaders who feel that every negative opinion must be addressed, countered, taken on and confronted because there is a sneaking suspicion that the rationale behind complaints is somehow better reasoned and, therefore, has more validity that other thoughts is just wrong minded.

It can feel as though negativity is sharper, smarter, better developed than positivity, but that simply is not the case. How a leader deals with the predilection in himself and others to jump to this conclusion can make or break the leader in critical moments and at critical times because complaints can underscore crisis. The leaders’ response to them can promote crisis.

Watch leaders you admire handle negativity. Watch leaders around you address complaint. They will be confronted by both. What they do when confronted tells a story.

Of course, so do responses to praise, but that’s a post for another day…