D is for Dos Rather Than Don’ts


“People respond best to seeing a positive way forwards,” said one of my first mentors.

“People like to know what they can do – rather than be scolded about what they can’t do. They need to know what good looks like and the benefits of achieving these goals.

“People often respond to the first things you say. So start with the Dos. They can then use their energy to work towards success.”

At the time I was working in therapeutic communities. The young people who joined us wanted to take responsibility for shaping their futures. They did not want to spend the rest of their lives in institutions.

Bearing this in mind, we outlined certain principles before they joined. These were mainly around Dos, but there were a few Don’ts.


Do have a positive attitude.
Do take responsibility for your actions.
Do encourage other people.
Do work towards your life goals.
Do be a good ambassador for the community.


Don’t avoid taking responsibility.
Don’t take drugs.
Don’t be violent towards yourself or other people.

The young people could decide whether or not they wanted to follow these guidelines and come to the community. If they did, that was great. If not, there were lots of other young people on the waiting list wanting to join.

Different people emphasise the Dos in different ways. So let’s explore where you may have used this approach in your own way.

Dos In The Past

Looking at your own life, can you think of times when you have focused on the Dos, rather than the Don’ts, and have done this successfully?

People sometimes apply this approach to themselves and follow positive scripting. They may say, for example: “Do be calm. Do breathe. Do see the big picture.” Rather than: “Don’t panic.”

People may also apply the approach when giving instructions to others, even if they are upset.

They may say something like: “In the future, I would prefer it if you would do the following: … The benefits of doing this will be: …”

This gives people a positive way forwards. Rather than boxing them in by saying something like: “Why did you do that?”

Good leaders adopt a similar approach when explaining the professional guidelines for achieving a particular goal. The approach outlines the deal that people are opting into regarding the required professional standards. Here is the framework that is often used.






If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation where you mainly focused on the Dos, rather than the Don’ts, successfully.

Describe the specific things you did right then – the principles you followed – to focus on the Dos.



Dos In The Future

People want a positive way forwards. They want to know the principles they can follow for being happy, building a good relationship, performing superb work or building a better planet.

They want to know how they can achieve success. They don’t want to be continually harangued about what they are doing wrong.

People prefer it if they get a clear message from somebody who says, for example: “I would like you to paint the colour blue.”

They don’t like being told: “I am not going to tell you what colour I want. But I am going to criticise you when you guess the wrong colour.”

Good leaders in organisations show what good looks like. One way they do this this is by sharing success stories. These highlight the principles they would like people to continue to follow to help the organisation reach its goals.

There are many models for sharing such success stories. But here is one approach.






Different people have different ways of focusing on the Dos. They use these when pursuing goals, encouraging others, giving positive alternatives, finding solutions to challenges, building successful cultures or whatever.

They recognise the power of Do. People need to focus on what they can do to achieve the picture of success. They sometimes also need to know the Don’ts. These are often implied, however, by underlining by the Dos.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to look to the future and do the following things.

Describe a specific situation where you want to focus more on the Dos, rather than the Don’ts.

Describe the specific things you can do to focus more on the Dos.

Describe the specific benefits of focusing on the Dos.




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