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8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

When Carl Daikeler founded Beachbody with Jon Congdon, the pair wanted to be sure that the company’s flag-ship product worked.

So the executives joined the test group and used their before and after photos to help sell the product.

Daikeler is chairman and CEO of Product Partners LLC, the parent company of Beachbody, and his commitment to his products and his “never satisfied” attitude has helped the pair grow the company to $223 million in 2007 gross revenue on the strength of in-home fitness and weight loss products, such as Power 90 and Hip Hop Abs.

“The key to effective leadership is looking at what the problem is with your current leadership,” Daikeler says. “An effective leader is somebody who will not just try to do it the way they read about it in a magazine or a book but who will make sure they’re listening and trying new things and learning every day.”

Smart Business spoke with Daikeler about how to give criticism that inspires your employees, not deflates them.

Be a consistent communicator. One of the most important steps in communicating for effective leadership is to stay consistent. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative within that consistency with good storytelling, examples or statistics to help prove a point, but people need to know that the direction is not going to change on an hour-by-hour basis.

Look to the people you are trying to lead or the organization you are trying to lead for clues. When a problem presents itself, the first reaction is, ‘Oh, this is a problem. I need to solve this.’ But the most productive first reaction is, ‘This is a positive; this is my organization showing me a problem that is symptomatic of a larger communication or systematic failure that can be solved.’

In order to improve the way you lead, look at problems and challenges as opportunities for not just putting out fires but making organizational improvements and making specific changes and clarifications in what you’re communicating to your organization.

On a more granular level, use commute time to get on the phone. Put on the headset and communicate with management that you may not be communicating with enough. Take the temperature, find out the status of projects or find out what their ideas are.

Use the hidden communication time in commutes and other downtimes to communicate with management in a way that is more efficient than necessarily adding meetings to your weekly schedule.

Be honest. When you get close with a management team, sometimes it can be difficult to communicate honestly to make corrections and give people negative feedback or positive feedback to turn around a negative situation.

The important thing with giving feedback is to remember that everybody wants to achieve. Everybody wants to feel like they are contributing to the organization. In addition to getting a paycheck, they want to feel like they are making a contribution. Constructive criticism is a part of helping them make that positive contribution.

The more graceful way to give criticism is to link it to the desire to be productive. The goal is not to make somebody feel bad; the goal is to help somebody achieve their objectives and feel good about what they do.

I don’t know anybody who would rather continue performing poorly rather than getting the feedback to feel like they are excelling. That should be the first topic of the conversation: To get that staff member or that manager on the same page with you, get agreement that their goal is to contribute at a certain level and confirm that is what they are trying to do and that they want to advance their career.

Get buy-in on their willingness to accept constructive criticism to achieve that. Then you’ve got the stage set for having a frank discussion that may not be all that comfortable but will be accepted in the spirit of productivity — not negativity.

Give your employees a voice. People like to participate in the creative process. So if people feel like they have a voice in the collaboration or creative process of creating this vision, while it could start with the CEO, if people have the ability to help shape it, and if they feel heard in that process, they are usually going to support the vision.

Even if it’s not what they would have created themselves, they’ll feel like they have had the opportunity to shape it; they’ll be bought in. They’ll want to help achieve it, because now it’s their offspring and not just the CEO’s.

To shape a vision with management or staff, it’s important for a CEO to be very clear and carefully articulate with how they first present an idea, so they set a foundation that any creativity that comes from staff or management will come from that initial intent.

If the ultimate goal is very specific, then it will be easy for people at the farthest reaches of the organization to exercise good judgment to achieve that goal.

Part of the job of the CEO is to articulate what success means, then encourage contribution and collaboration on how to get to that goal. That’s when you can see your entire organization light up when they realize they’re not just being told what to do but being asked how to do it.

No one performs better than an employee who feels like they’ve got the respect of management to be able to contribute productively. That’s when you get the best out of people.

HOW TO REACH: Beachbody/Product Partners LLC, (800) 207-0420 or