Let the first words out of my mouth be an encouragement to my fellow employees.

That simple understanding about how to conduct business, especially in our modern work culture that values aggressive tactics over kindness, could be the one thing that creates a differentiating factor for most companies. It's what makes one firm more attractive to employees and creates an atmosphere of innovation. It's what can rack up sales with customers who sense a positive attitude and even become enamored by it. It can even create a lasting brand that can make it through hard times.

I realized this during a recent visit to Five Guys, the popular burger joint. I had ordered a single regular fry to share with my wife. We waited and waited...and waited. I noticed how the employees reacted when we finally alerted them to the problem. They didn't turn on each other like vultures. One of the employees asked the manager on duty about giving us an extra order of fries. I knew the person running the burger counter had screwed up, but everyone acted like it was a minor oversight. The entire team quickly moved into "solve the problem" mode. It was wonderful to watch. (And, the fries were awesome.)

This attitude is so contrary to what you see at some startups these days. There's a radically different approach, one that is incredibly counterproductive. As humans, we like to know we are adding value and making a contribution. We want to be noticed for our efforts. Criticism in the workplace is exactly what we don't want. Maybe there are times when people screw up, and it's OK to point out problems. Yet, you can only create one culture. Either everyone has an attitude of accusation or they have an attitude of encouragement. You have to pick the one that works.

In leadership, there's a tendency to see the role as one of correction. The words lead and correct are synonymous. We walk around the office or hang out on Slack looking for things to point out that aren't working, thinking that's our job. Bad idea. In any leadership role, it's far more important to encourage than to correct.

Let's say you do decide to be the one who carries the bully club around the office. You snap at people for not finishing up a business report (thunk). You correct the marketing guy for a typo on the website (whack). You lash out at the accounting team because they didn't process some expense reports (crack). Guess what kind of culture you've created? The problem is that no one likes to work for a boss like that. Employees already feel depleted when you're around, then you go around and suck even more air out.

I've worked in these environments, and the one thing employees are always looking for (besides the exit sign, or a job lead on LinkedIn) is a break from the constant heel-nipping. A few years ago, I had a boss who only corrected and never encouraged. It set my expectations pretty low. If an email arrived or he showed up at my desk, it would be bad news. I hated working there. I knew that the boss wasn't going to recognize any of my hard work, so why work hard in the first place? I knew that he was going to micro-manage me to death and look for problems.

Here's what happens in this culture. When the boss is always correcting, employees switch into a protective mode. They don't do anything risky or great. They lay low and do what they're told. They don't try to impress anyone or crank out an amazing presentation for the sales meeting. They piece together a marginal presentation, one that doesn't have any typos. They do average, good work. And, they know no one will notice.

What makes a company great is when employees do exceptional but risky work. The boss doesn't always jump in and say: "Hey, next time, don't take as many risks. Make sure you do things right, not great. We're not trying to win any awards here. We're trying to stay average." He says: "Awesome job on that killer presentation, way to go!"

Does this mean you let things slide? Not really. It means, spend 90% of your time leading. Encourage your employees, motivate them, set the example. Encourage them. Correct lightly by saying: "Oh, by the way, I noticed a small typo in that marketing demo. Not a big deal. Just make sure you keep an eye on that. But great job otherwise!"

My suggestion is to keep criticisms brief and low-key, but create a culture of widespread encouragement. This is what creates truly awesome companies.