Leadership Lessons from Jim Williams: Give Praise in Public, Reprimand in Private

I can definitively say that I would not be where I am today without Jim Williams. I first met Jim in 2008 when I accepted an entry-level role in Jim’s IT organization at American Health Holding. Despite the fact that my initial responsibilities centered around technology support, I was encouraged by Jim to assume responsibility for Systems Administration and Information Security. Jim’s encouragement enabled me to expand my skill set which ultimately allowed for continued advancement in my career.

2 years after I joined American Health Holding, I was promoted to oversee the entire Infrastructure team. Jim made the decision to promote me despite the fact that I did not have any formal leadership experience and had just graduated college a few years prior. Looking back, I’m confident that Jim saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Shortly after my promotion was announced, Jim pulled me aside and told me, “I am going to teach you more about leadership in the next 5 minutes than you learned in any management course you took in college.” Sure enough, Jim explained several management fundamentals that not only enabled me to be successful at American Health Holding but in all of my future roles.

One of Jim’s key lessons was to “praise in public but don’t be afraid to reprimand in private”. Throughout your career, you are going to run into situations where you must take full responsibility for one of your team member’s mistakes despite the fact that the situation was beyond your control. By not reprimanding the individual in public, you will allow them to save face and quickly rebuild their reputation. That doesn’t mean that they can avoid accountability but that discussion should remain private.

Another lesson shared during that initial meeting was to “share the credit but accept all blame”. There are few things more demoralizing than when your boss steals credit for your idea or hard work. I had it happen a few times during my career and I really struggled with it. That being said, few things made me work harder than recognizing that my boss fell on the sword for one of my mistakes.

I don’t think I’ll be able to ever pay back Jim for all the help and guidance he gave me throughout my career. However, I will absolutely try to pay it forward.

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