Praise Publicly and Punish Privately

The biggest motivator of all is praise in front of others.

“Admonish your friends privately, but praise them openly.” —Publilius Syrus

Praise is easily the one thing most appreciated by human beings, while criticism is the hardest thing to digest. Leadership is a challenging task, and it is tough to manage people with different egos, emotions, and feelings. It is even tougher to manage the people who perform poorly. That is why companies take a lot of care during recruitment itself to recruit the right candidates by following the slogan: Hire for attitude and recruit for skill.

Even after a thorough selection process, we sometimes find the wrong people entering into employment. At times, they ruin the work culture, thereby causing damage to the organization. The role played by leaders is particularly important in handling such people. They need to be corrected to bring about behavioral changes among them. They need to be criticized in private so that they fall in line with the mainstream for organizational excellence and effectiveness. This is one side of the story.

The other side of the story is that people who are hardworking must be given prompt pats on the back so that others learn from them and replicate similar behavior. Ella Wheeler Wilcox rightly noted, “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.” People’s craving goes beyond money. Money has little role to play in motivating employees. In fact, people look for recognition and appreciation. Leaders must realize this inherent human need and catch the people doing well and applaud them. This is the biggest motivator of all—praise in front of others. They feel they are worth it, and it motivates them to reach their tipping point. However, excessive praise and criticism boomerangs in the long run. Here are tips to help praise and criticize people constructively.

Tips to Praise and Criticize

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” —Frank A. Clark

  • Praise enhances positive behavior and helps in replicating similar behavior among others. While praising, be specific, otherwise it will be treated as flattery. You need to be specific and objective in your praise and you must praise promptly to motivate others. For instance, you can say, “Nice work, Beth! The way you did your work with finesse is amazing. Keep it up!” It reminds other employees about your expectations for them.
  • Don’t play favorites while praising, as it boomerangs. Praise the deserving people by clearly specifying their performance and achievements.
  • Praise immediately and criticize later. Praise is a positive stroke, while criticism is a negative one. When you praise immediately, it will have a better impact on the individual. When you want to criticize, take a little longer, as you will be able to modify your thought process and criticize the behavior of the individual. While criticizing, never attack the individual; attack only the behavior.
  • Don’t criticize when you are angry. It is essential to avoid criticism while you are angry as people often attack the individual then, rather than the behavior.

Flattery vs. Praise

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me, and I may be forced to love you.” —William Arthur Ward

Flattery is an extension of praise, which glorifies beyond reality. The intention of flattery is mostly to serve one’s own interests rather than those of others. At times, it could be to fool others. Flattery is an exaggeration of reality. In contrast, praise is factual, with the intention of making others realize their strengths and making them feel comfortable by giving them confidence. It motivates them to move forward. Praise comes from the heart, while flattery comes from the lips.

If praise is the true currency, flattery is the counterfeit. Praise elevates you as an individual, while flattery lowers your stature. Hence, flattery should be avoided at any cost. Flattery proves fatal in the long run, while praise keeps you firmly on your feet.

Chanakya’s Four-Fold Strategy

Don’t compare people with others as comparing a person with another is an insult. Comparison leads to ill will among employees. It results in an unhealthy work climate. Chanakya was an ancient Indian political thinker who laid out four ways of getting tasks done:

  1. Sama (persuasion)
  2. Dana (offer incentives)
  3. Bhed (differentiation)
  4. Dandopaya (punishment)

He advised people to apply these four methods one after the other, should the first method fail. When you want a task to be done, you persuade people to do it. Usually, it gets done. If the task is not done, then provide incentives or show them the benefits of doing the task. If it still remains undone, then compare them with others who perform better. This certainly works, as people don’t like to be compared with others. The ego within individuals creeps in and makes them perform the task. But if that fails, the fourth and final weapon is to punish them for non-execution of tasks.

Charles M. Schwab once remarked, “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” It is true that people prefer to work when praised promptly. And at the same time, they prefer to be corrected privately. The days of command and control no longer are over now. People appreciate leaders who hold their hands, correct them, and carry them forward. People don’t like to work under leaders who insult them in the presence of others. To err is human. Hence, leaders must learn to praise their people’s performance in public and criticize them privately in order to correct and guide them toward organizational excellence and effectiveness. To conclude in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the father of “Soft Leadership” and founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an international leadership guru and educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 36 years of experience, and is the author of 36 books, including “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” (, which was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University. His book, “Success Tools for CEO Coaches: Be a Learner, Leader, and Ladder” ( is the Community Award Winner for 2014 by Small Business Trends. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 ( His vision program was ranked one of the Top 10 Finalists in the Not-For-Profit category of Leadership 500 Excellence Awards 2015. Rao received the 10th International Prestigious Sardar Patel Award―2015 for Lifetime Achievement in the field of “Excellence in Youth Development.” He was honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Global Gurus ( He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards in Malaysia, Middle East Business Leaders Summits & Awards in Dubai, and Small Business Book Awards in the United States. He received the International Award – International Coach of the Year 2013 from Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. He coined an innovative teaching tool (Meka’s Method); leadership training tool (11E Leadership Grid); and leadership learning tool (Soft Leadership Grid), based on his new leadership style, “Soft Leadership,” which is the most frequently downloaded research paper in ICT, Emerald, UK ( Visit his Amazon book page at: Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs:,, and E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 43 years of experience and the author of 52 books, including the award-winning "See the Light in You" ( He has published more than 300 papers and articles in international publications, including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision, given his multifaceted professional experience that includes military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 ( He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at