Seagull management


I went to a local networking event last night, mainly because I’d heard the speaker before and liked his style. Damian Hughes ( has quite a CV, straddling the worlds of sport and business. His presentations are chock full of anecdotes and examples drawn from both domains.

One of the researchers he cites is John Gottman, who has the uncanny knack of predicting with astonishing accuracy whether relationships will survive from watching a brief interview with the couple. He found evidence to show that a minimum ratio of 5:1 postive to negative statements were critical in building a successful relationship. For couples whose marriages ended in divorce, the ratio was a meagre 0.8:1. Incidentally, this kind of positive vs negative statements ratio is vital for raising children with a healthy level of self-esteem. See his brief explanation at

Managers could learn a lot from these figures to build successful, well-functioning teams. Ken Blanchard has a graphic metaphor:

“He said most managers bottle up their feedback until something goes wrong. He called it seagull management–they fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and fly out. So he challenged managers to stop storing up their comments and proposed a specific way to shrink the change: He said, Concentrate on catching your employees doing something right–and then reinforce it with immediate, specific praise. He called it One-Minute Praisings.”  Dan Heath

This more positive approach is the basis of Appreciative Inquiry developed by David Cooperrider and colleagues in the 1980s. Instead of signing up to the seagull school of management, it’s much healther for relationships if managers follow the principle of asking their team, ‘What’s working? What’s going well? When are we at our best?’


7 thoughts on “Seagull management

  1. Hi Sue,

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen too many managers who think the way forward is to catch people doing something wrong. All it tends to achieve is to create a culture of fear. As you say successful teams are built on catching people doing something right. Creating an environment where it is ok to make mistakes as long as we learn from them leads to empowerment and an atmosphere of trust and support.

    Many managers need to learn to let go and become leaders and not task masters.

    I think Damian Hughes is excellent. He is very creative and thought provoking even if he is a Man Utd fan – see I tried to find the positives first! 🙂

  2. Rachel

    Hi Sue,

    I absolutely agree with the points you’ve made. I have just met an organisation where the ‘seagull’ principle exists and negative recognition is more prevelant that positive recognition. My challenge will be to reverse the 1:5 to a far more healthy 5:1 ~ watch this space!


    • idcoach

      Good luck with that Rachel! Apparently the upper limit for positive to negative ratio is 13:1, so you have plenty of scope …

  3. idcoach

    Just come across a quote by management guru Tom Peters which may be helpful: “Kind words or no words.”

  4. Current parenting classes advocate catching your child doing something good and praise them as often as you can. Perhaps by the time this generation grow up they may be more ready with appreciative enquiry rather than run and dump.

    • idcoach

      Let’s hope so. Some of the TV Supernanny ‘before’ scenarios are almost too painful to watch aren’t they?

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