Beware of overusing the “metaphorical red pen.”
That’s the lesson and warning Jonathan Klein, CEO of photo agency Getty Images, tells the New York Times in a Q&A about leadership and constructive criticism. There is a fine line, Klein suggests, between critiques that add value to a project and overly nitpicky ones that detract from it.
Klein tells the Times he used to be in the habit of breaking out that metaphorical red pen to critique any work that was shown to him. “And what I didn’t appreciate at the time,” he explains, “is that before you mess around the edges, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Am I going to make this significantly better, or am I going to make it only 5 or 10 per cent better?’ Because in fiddling over the small stuff, you take away all the empowerment. Basically it no longer becomes that person’s work.”
Over-edit too many people’s work for too long, and they’ll simply start giving you unfinished work, Klein says. That’s even worse because then you have to complete it yourself.
In addition to over-critiquing, Klein also admits he used to heavily debate and argue any point under discussion. Then his executive coach told him, “You’ve got to stop. You’ve got to pause, and think, ‘Are you debating the point to get a better outcome or because you just like getting the last word and you like winning?’ If you’re debating to get a better outcome, absolutely do it. If you’re debating because of the latter, cut it out.”
Assess when a critique or debate is worthwhile. If it adds value, then pursue it. But don’t hamstring your employees just for the sake of having the last word or making the final mark with your red pen.
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