In my experience as a manager/leader of people for the past 30 years and in observing leaders I’ve led, a key behavior is too often missed. Sure, we’re all good at pointing out areas of improvement. We follow-up on the progress of a project. We question our team member on an expenditure.
But we miss something. Something that is powerful. Something that is impactful. Something that can help turn an indifferent team member into a passionate player.
Why is it we overlook this crucial part of leadership? When a team member has done something great, overcome a hurdle, landed a significant sale, helped move the company forward, or shown initiative beyond their position, we might give a nod. But so often we skirt by that and move on to “our” agenda.
The Results of Not Praising
What happens when we don’t verbally (or even in writing) praise a team member?
* We show our ignorance. That’s right. If our team member has done something significant and we don’t acknowledge it, they most likely will think “he/she has no clue what I do or how hard I work to make an impact here.” And that is true.
* We exchange price tags. What we focus on demonstrates what we value. If we continually focus on what has gone wrong (according to our perspective), we show our team members what we value. When they have really hit a significant goal or company metric and we basically ignore it, we have taken the “price tag” off that achievement and placed it on “well, we need to talk about how you…” Where does that leave the team member? Frustrated. They just accomplished something that they are required to do – and exceeded expectations. And what do we as leaders do? Place value on something else with barely a recognition of their work. Don’t ever let a team member feel “well, I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t”.
How to Praise
*Be specific. It may seem like this is out of the “Mr. Obvious” playbook, but praise them specifically for what they have done. Document this achievement and put it in their quarterly/annual reviews. I’ve never had a team member be unhappy to review once again a major accomplishment. They loved seeing it again.
* Make eye contact. Look them in the eye when you are praise them specifically. I’m bad at this. But when I do it, it positively impacts me AND the team member. It gets all of the focus on what you’re saying.
* Smile. Again, I’ve got work to do here. But if you are saying something positive, look positive.
* Remind them of their accomplishment. Weeks or months down the road, you may be in a coaching session with this team member and they are not having a good stretch. Remind them of what they can accomplish. Remind them of what they did “back then”. They can do it again. Encourage them.
I just had a coaching session with one of my leaders yesterday. I was so encouraged to hear how an online class had gone for her. She took the lead in the class and was recognized for it by her professor. I was able to put into my own words why this experience is true at her work, too. She is very passionate about her job, her team, and her impact. I was able to speak encouragement to her.
A few weeks ago, I sat in on an interview with the leader of my call center. We were meeting a young lady who was hoping to get our part-time position. She said at the beginning on the interview that she was nervous and not very experienced in interviewing.
But as my team leader worked her way through the conversation, this young lady spoke clearly, specifically, and confidently of her experiences and what she would bring to the table. At the end, I said I had something to say. I asked the young lady to look at me and I said, “you did an excellent job in this interview. You did not come across nervous. You gave specific examples of how you handled various work scenarios. You demonstrated confidence in you as a person and your abilities. You interviewed very well.”
The young lady almost cried. She then said that she so needed to hear that. She told me how much that meant to her.
Oh, yes, we hired her and she started this past Monday in training.
Don’t underestimate praise. Don’t forget it. As a leader, you probably don’t know how much your words of praise means to a team member. The benefits for them, for your team, and for your company are endless.