Lessons in Leadership from Medium

Medium knows how to motivate people. They let you know when people clap for and highlight your posts, when they follow you, and when your posts hit some milestones such as 10, 50, and 100 fans.

Once a week, you receive a summary of statistics of your posts and a list of most influential people on Medium that followed you.

The recognition that is the most precious to me is becoming a top writer in a certain tag. So far, I’ve received that title in Finance, Business, Investing, Life Lessons, and Self-Improvement.

Yesterday, I’ve received an email that congratulated me for becoming a top writer in Leadership. This was a very nice surprise to me, because I didn’t use that tag often.

My Top Writer Journey in Medium So Far

When I received the top writer title in Finance, it was a surprise, because that was the first title I received on Medium.

Then I started to target the tags Investing, Business, Life Lessons, and Self-Improvement. I received the title in each of them. I would have been content if I could defend the top writer titles that I already received.

I neither made an effort nor expected to receive the title in another tag. That’s why receiving the title in Leadership was a nice surprise.

I’m grateful for the top writer titles I have received so far. I owe a lot to all my readers who read, clap, and highlight my posts and follow me on Medium.

I owe a big “thank you” to the Startup Publication who publish my posts on a daily basis on their Medium publication with 200K+ followers. Without their help, it would take much longer to receive all those titles.

By the way, you might not see the Leadership tag in my profile, because Medium doesn’t show more than five tags in someone’s profile. If you go to the top writers tab of the Leadership tag, you’ll see me there, hopefully for a long time.

The Most Effective Way to Lead

The introduction of this post is not only about me receiving a Medium title. It is also about lessons in leadership. When you think about a leader, you might think about an angry person shouting at a crowd. Unfortunately, this is what many people in top positions think what leadership is.

Shouting angrily at a person or a crowd is not leadership. On the contrary, it’s a guaranteed way to alienate people, push them away from you and your cause, and loose them for good.

Look at how Medium motivates its writers. Medium cheers them up whenever they reach a milestone on their platform. Medium creates all these small milestones to reach out to its writers and to recognize their efforts.

I can guarantee you that without the recognition we receive from Medium, many writers would have given up by now. It’s just grueling work to write and publish day after day. Without seeing any recognition in return, that would be impossible to bear. That is our first lesson in leadership today.

In order to motivate people, recognize their achievements, no matter how small.

That is quite counterintuitive, because most people would think that if they recognize someone’s achievements, that person would get spoiled and take it easy. Nothing can be further from truth.

People lose their motivation not when their efforts are recognized, but when their efforts are ignored and the only feedback they receive is critical.

Does that mean never to give critical feedback?

Not necessarily, but there has to be a ratio between positive and critical feedback. The optimum ratio seems to be 5-to-1. This is a figure that I come across often in multiple sources. The last source I came across was The Art of Conflict Management by Prof. Michael Dues, available at audible.com.

When I talk about 5-to-1, you might think that every five instances of critical feedback has to be balanced by a positive one. This is what we tend to do. The optimal ratio is the other way around.

Every instance of critical feedback has to be balanced with five instances of positive feedback, not only in your relationships with others, but also in your relationship with yourself.

Direct People Toward the Areas They Are Good At

Granting the top writer title is Medium’s way of telling you “people like your posts in this tag. Focus on this tag. Write more and regularly in this tag.” I’ll take the clue and I’ll start writing more on leadership from now on.

It’s a waste of human capital pushing someone to a field they aren’t good at. To make the most of the human capital, people need to be deployed in areas they are good at.

Instead of criticizing someone’s weakness in one area and pushing them towards that area, you’re better off recognizing their strengths in another area and encouraging them to focus on that area. This is what Medium is doing with their Top Writer titles.

Provide Frequent, Fair, Objective, Accurate Evaluation

Medium sends a weekly stats email to its writers. These are pure numbers. They are objective. It’s not someone’s subjective opinion about someone’s work. As a result, that evaluation is fair. It’s not biased by someone’s subjective opinions.

Coming up with accurate, objective, fair way of evaluating people’s work and providing that evaluation frequently motivates them. People can disagree with your opinions all day long, but they can’t disagree with numbers, if they reflect the truth.

As a leader, one of your main tasks is to find a way to evaluate your people’s work objectively. If you can do that and if you make those numbers available all the time, your people will do their best to improve those numbers, because what gets measured, gets improved.

Summary

There are three lessons we can learn from how Medium motivates its writers.

  1. Recognize the accomplishments of your people, no matter how small.
  2. Direct people toward the areas they are good at and encourage them to focus on those areas.
  3. Provide fair, objective, accurate, frequent evaluation based on numbers and statistics and your people will do their best to improve them.

What’s Your Take on Leadership?

What are the leadership lessons you have learned in your life? Who or which organization is your inspiration for leadership? What did you learn from them? What are the leadership mistakes that you have done so far or that you see others are doing?

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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