“I never criticize a player until they are first convinced of my unconditional confidence in their abilities.” – John Robinson, football coach

This is a follow-up to a separate note I wrote on blame.

Another aspect of leadership is the courage and ability to declare reality. Sometimes, reality is hard. Sometimes ugly. Sometimes difficult.

It can involve assessing one’s effort, negligence, attitude, or talent. Not done well, it can sound like blame. You could read my note on blame and interpret it to mean you shouldn’t criticize.

Robinson’s quote reminds us of a vital leadership priority: Establishing relationships that enable feedback when required.

Stephen Covey called it building an “emotional bank account.” He said that with every relationship, we establish an account. Every encounter results in a deposit or a withdrawal.

Robinson says he focuses on building relationships with players that establishes that he cares for and believes in them. When that confidence is established, the balance in the account can stand a withdrawal. The player can put the sting of criticism aside because he knows the coach cares and has his best interest at heart.

The emotional bank account is opened on the first encounter. People develop impressions from body language. They look at facial expressions. They listen to the tone of voice. They notice if you maintain contact and see them.

All of those things will either be initial contributions to the account or will produce a deficit. If it’s your goal to be a person who leaves an impact, you will be mindful of the impressions your actions and words make.

I’ve had it said to me: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Thus, the challenge of the emotional bank account.