Marc Sparks on Leadership: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013 in Marc Sparks: On Leadership | Comments Off on Marc Sparks on Leadership: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Marc Sparks on Leadership: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Marc Sparks is an entrepreneur who has been involved in more than sixty start-ups since the Seventies. He is also the owner and CEO of Timber Creek Capital, a private equity firm.

As the owner of any business—or anyone on your management team, for that matter—setting an example is the key to maximizing the output of your team members.  You never want to be a dictator; you simply want to be the dude (or dude-ette) in charge. And when it comes to how you treat your team, my philosophy is simple: treat everyone with respect. Praise publicly and reprimand in private.

You can’t possibly expect those who are leading your team to perform at their best if you tear them down and berate them in front of the very people you expect them to lead. Their confidence will be shot, and even more importantly, the people they’re expected to lead will have zero confidence in them. On the other hand, praising in public reinforces your trust in the management team, shows your pleasure with the results, and your appreciation of their efforts.

Marc Sparks: Lombardi and Starr—Leadership in Action

I’m a great admirer of Vince Lombardi, the late coach of the Green Bay Packers. Even Lombardi learned the value that comes from praising publicly and criticizing privately. In 1960, he stopped practice and exploded in an expletive-laced tirade directed at his young quarterback, Bart Starr, for what Lombardi said was a poor pass that resulted in an interception—in practice.

Starr later met the legendary coach in his office to set things straight. Starr did not deny he was responsible for the interception; he did, however, tell the legendary coach that: “You expect me to be the leader of this team. I want to be the best leader I can be, but I can’t do that if you’re chewing me out in front of the team I am supposed to lead. … Now, I can take any chewing out you want to deliver, but all I ask is that you do it in the privacy of your office … I will be an even better leader for you if you do that.” Lombardi never criticized Starr in front of the team again.

So how’d that work out? Five NFL titles in a span of eight seasons and enshrinement for them both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame—that sounds like winning to me. And it probably would not have happened (at least to that degree) had it not been for Lombardi agreeing not to criticize his leader in public.

Marc Sparks: ‘Everyone Loves Praise’

It’s a fine line that we walk as business leaders. Let’s face it; some colleagues simply need an occasional reminder that they’re not meeting the high standards you expect. In short, they need to be guided and perhaps even disciplined. I’ve had times when this simply meant a discussion, and other times, well, it was a good square kick in the you-know-where. Always—always—handle these situations behind closed doors. Your people will respect you more for it—and respect is at the root of all success.

Now, praising in public is equally important. Everyone loves praise! Look for opportunities to make people feel important.  When people in your organization come up with great ideas, praise them for it in a companywide email or at the next company meeting or gathering. The same goes for anytime someone lands a new client, or you receive praise from a client regarding the customer service your staff delivers, or someone reaches a milestone in terms of service to the company or on behalf of a client. The opportunities are out there, people, and if you’re not praising publicly, you’re missing out on golden opportunities to recognize a job well done.

Doing so will keep morale at the highest levels, and a dedicated staff will make a positive impact where it matters most—the bottom line!

Read more Marc Sparks’ insights at and excerpts from his upcoming book, They Can’t Eat You at