“leadership, with its inevitable panoply of attack, sucks the tender self-appreciation right out of people”


As a coach, one of the things I encounter with everyone, especially the Brits I coach, is the cognitive error of discounting. People overlook positive things about the world and themselves. They overlook positives in their work and family life with an overwhelming focus on what’s wrong, the negative etc.

I see this whether I’m acting as a life coach for private individuals or coaching school senior leadership teams; people seem to have a negative bias for looking at the world.

You’ve no doubt noticed that as you’ve progressed in your career, taking on more and more responsibility, that you receive less appreciation and get more criticism. Have you noticed?

Have a think about it, is it true?


The sad truth is that humans imagine that reality is mostly negative. They imagine that the higher up someone is in an organization, better you can see reality, the stronger, more ‘realistic’ (read negative focused), no nonsense and iron clad you are. It kind of misses the point that as a (human) leader, you’re just the rest of the people you work with.

Except, of course, that you have far more responsibility, slightly better perks and spend your time on strategy and planning rather than teaching, planning for teaching or doing the other things that drew you to your career in the first place.

However, ask yourself this:

Do you feel like you don’t need appreciation for what you do?

Is the paycheck sufficient?

Probably not.

See, what most people don’t know is that it doesn’t matter how old we get, in order for each of us to think and perform at our best, we need more appreciation than criticism. Sound too soft?

Well, consider this, criticism is necessary. There’s no question, without it, you may never address some serious weaknesses, but for negative comments to jar sufficiently, they’ve got to be noticeably different from the daily grind.

While the precise ratio, the Losada ratio, has been debunked as mathematically unsubstantiated, the majority of the work remains a testament to the fact that being positive and appreciative really is probably associated with higher performance.

And we’ve got to keep in mind that no one has debunked John Gottman’s work on the positivity ratio of marriage and divorce which works out as about 5:1 positive to negative comments. Those who end up divorced have a ratio more like 0.77 to 1, or three positives to four negatives.

It doesn’t sound that big a deal on the face of it, but think about the last time someone complimented you or said something positive to you.

Now think about the last time you were criticized or had negative comments directed towards you


I reckon we could all do with more positivity in our lives, even if we were so cynical as to add the positive simply in order to make the criticism stand out better from the background.

As Nancy Kline notes in Time to Think, “leadership, with its inevitable panoply of attack, sucks the tender self-appreciation right out of people”. In her book, she notes that self-appreciation and appreciation by others tend to go hand in hand.

They’re related phenomena.

So what are some things you could appreciate about yourself?

What do you do well? (Even if everyone expects you to perform at that level.)

What have you done that was good or kind or just plain generous lately?

And who appreciates you? Can you name them? I don’t mean people who probably appreciate you, but people who’ve actually paid you compliments and other positive statements.

As a leader, you presumably do the whole ‘pay compliments publicly and give criticism privately’, so you’re likely already giving out a good ratio of positive to negative interactions for your staff…

But as a headteacher, headmaster, principal or deputy, you’re the one who’ll get it in the neck when the criticism monster comes to town (and it will…), you’re responsible for the ship and its crew.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone notice the good you do?

So who listens to you?

Who notices the good that you do, especially when you yourself are blind to it?

‘Notice what is good and say it.’

~Nancy Kline