Okay, I know starting a post with a rip off of a famous Shakespearean line may seem a bit presumptuous, but I hope you will take a moment to “hear” me out. Because I think this is the most important question leaders of today must answer.
Normally this blog is dedicated to questions of style and substance, so why the big switch to leadership? Simply put, in my mind, all good leaders throughout history have been people of substance and style, people who wanted to make sure the best action was taken in a way that was uniquely personal. So, today we talk leadership and the question, critique or cultivate.
Borrowing fr my days in forensics, many years ago, let me start with some definitions.
To Critique something is to analyze it, to break it down into it’s parts and assign a judgement or value to each of those parts. Strong or weak, compelling or common place, the process of critique is to find out what is useful and cull out what is useless.
Cultivating something may seem to be very similar. For instance, when we talk about cultivating a crop, we will analyse what the crop needs (weaknesses) and provide those. We will seek to leverage natural appearing advantages (strengths) in order to maximize the yield. We then remove weeds or poor performing branches or plants in order to further maximize the yield.
Critique or cultivate, both seem quite similar at first glance.
But the first glance rarely tells the full story and in this case, the full story is about the process.
When we critique something, whether it be a performance or a work of art or even a skill demonstration, the focus is on the outcomes. Did you deliver on the expectation or not, simple as that. There is little if any thought given to what has come before or what will come after. Said another way, critique is something we do for a discreet moment in time.
Cultivating is very different. When we cultivate something we take specific action in order to promote future growth and development. We may still make an assessment as to whether or not desires expectations were met at this moment in time, but the focus is not the moment, it is future moments, future performance, future mastery that is forefront in the mind.
Cultivation and critique are both tools, techniques which can and should be employed with skill and only after thoughtful selection. If one cannot critique, valuable opportunities for fine tuning may be lost in the efforts to encourage future growth and improvements. If one cannot cultivate, the learner or follower may collapse under the burdens of too much corrective information and not enough recognition of improvement made.
To Critique or Cultivate? The answer to the question that forms the title of this post is best answered by asking a second question; namely, what is most necessary at this moment for the growth of the one receiving our information?
In my own experience, I rarely use critique alone. Critique when used is used as a part of the cultivation process. The only time that critique is used alone is when the individual approaches a mastery test. If the outcome is a clear “yes” or “no” event, critique by itself may be called for. However, in my experience, even such tests can be followed later by a debrief session where the critique is employed as a cultivation tool, guiding the next steps along the path to mastery.
With followers, learners, and children, more cultivation is likely a better direction. At ajudicated events, performance reviews and annual evaluations, critique may be called for. The person of style and substance will thoughtfully choose the best approach for the outcome at hand.