Management By Criticism and Other Ways to Demotivate

Written by lewsauder

July 1, 2015

Management by criticism

Management by Criticism

I once worked for a manager that had very little positive to say. He criticized just about everything anyone ever did. The term “Good job” just wasn’t in his vernacular.

I wrote it off as just an oddity. I was fortunate enough to move on in my career to work for some great managers who were encouraging, positive and motivating.

As a consultant I’ve worked in many different consulting environments. I’ve been exposed to many managers and observed many as an outside 3rd party. I’ve seen amateur managers who demotivate their employees. They limit the success of their employees. By extension they limit their own success.

A negative ratio of management by criticism

I was once on a project where one manager would complement her team. Then she would follow it with a half a dozen complaints about their performance, quality, or some other aspect of their work.

She felt that since she pointed out one positive with all of the negatives, that she was being positive.

There are times when you may need to correct a wrong or give a team member constructive criticism. I’ve always followed the sandwich method. Provide positive feedback about something they do well. Then, you provide constructive criticism about the area you’d like to see improvement. You end with more praise about what they do right. Sandwiching the corrective measures around praise helps the employee to realize that, while they need to improve on something, there is plenty of value that they provide.

The left-handed compliment

Some managers just can’t seem to give praise without ruining it. They may praise the employee. But then they have to add a snide remark about how they almost screwed it up. Or they may say something like, “You really got us out of a jam. But then again, you were the one who got us into the jam in the first place.”

This is something my mother used to call a left-handed compliment. (Full disclosure: I’m left-handed and do not find this characterization to be offensive.) The left-handed compliment makes the subject feel good for just a split second before finding out that they still aren’t up to snuff for the manager.

When you are going to compliment a team member, make it complimentary and don’t take anything away from it.


Some managers shower the team with empty praises with no content. “You guys are rock stars.” And “Great job everybody.” These types of compliments are like donuts for breakfast. The team gets a good feeling temporarily. But it’s a short-term high with no long-term nourishment.

If a manager wants to complement the team and make it meaningful, it should be directed towards actual accomplishments. “You really did a great job on that presentation.” “Your document was exactly what the client was looking for.”

Everybody wants to be a rock star. But they want to know which songs provided the value and made them rock stars. It helps them to know what type of actions to repeat in the future to remain rock stars.

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Happy medium

A good manager knows the right balance of cheerleading, complimenting and correction to make his or her words meaningful. Every team member is different and takes compliments and criticism differently. Successful managers get to know each team member well enough to know how to deal with each one to get the best performance out of each one.

How do you motivate your team members?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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