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Criticize in Private and Praise in Public
Leadership lessons

When my wife and I were looking for a new home to build for our growing family, we went to the most reputable builders we could find, based on feedback from friends, awards, and reviews, as well as the advice from our realtor.

Through that process, it became apparent which builder was our lead candidate. So my wife and I went to take a look at their showhome, and speak to the rep on site. We loved their quality craftsmanship and style, and were sold on the idea of building with them.

We put down a refundable deposit and went on vacation feeling pretty good about the whole decision. After returning from vacay we could hardly wait to get the construction going and went straight to the developer’s office to hammer out the details; and officially kick off the build. We met with the lead sales rep and went through all the layout details, what features would be in the house, how much it would cost and timelines.

I like to bargain for sport… so, after my wife picked out her wish list of finishings for the house (half of which I didn’t even understand), we got down to the brass tax…

After pounding his calculator a few times, the sales rep came back with a number that, frankly, sounded pretty reasonable. But, I know every business has a margin that’s negotiable, so I asked for 2.5% off the entire value of the house – a reasonable starting point I thought (my research showed typical margins for a home of this type, in my area, were about 15% to 19%). The sales rep scoffed at me – gave me some line about how great of a deal they were offering and that two years ago it would have been $150,000 more… blah, blah, blah.

We went back and forth a few times, and it became clear to me this guy wasn’t budging. I suspected because he didn’t have the authority. So I told him we were likely going to have to think on it further, and that he didn’t have to keep the house on hold for us any longer (it was a bluff – my wife was pissed at me, so I suspected I would have to renege on that eventually)…

On our way out to the car, the boss comes flying in. He asked me how things went, and I told him why we weren’t closing and how his sales rep informed me they had no wiggle room. His response: “[sales rep name] is a f&#$in idiot. Let’s work it out together.”

Long story short, I still went home without committing to a new house. We ended up working with another builder (not solely for the poor leadership traits that boss demonstrated). I’ll never forget how weak that boss was. Throwing any team member under the bus like that in public is pathetic, shows a lack of respect and only makes you look untrustworthy – a Benedict Arnold if you will. Defend your team to the end in the public arena otherwise you’ll have no team and no brand.

That boss should have said this: “[sales rep name] has been trained well eh, Aaron? He knows how to stick to his guns and knows what our quality homes are worth. But let’s go sit down again and see if there are some ways for us to get closer to your number.”

Respected brands/ companies don’t ever bail on their team, especially not in a public setting. Criticize in private and praise in public. As an entrepreneur, a person in a leadership role, make a point of building your staff up. Recognize their efforts in front of your customers and staff. If they mess up, talk to them individually, in a private setting.

Stay hungry,


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