"David, you're never satisfied with the work I do. It's just like with my dad, you're never happy."
Those were the words I heard from a key team member 7 years ago now, and they stung.
I wanted to be an enlightened boss and saw myself as an empowering leader. But here was direct evidence that I wasn't.
Why is it that I, like so many business leaders, am hard wired to go right past the "victories" our team shares with us, and instead focus with our team on all the work that is left to do and all the improvements that are left to be done?
"Great work on the Torrance Center project Tom, and now you still need to..."
"Erin, I'm glad you got a yes from the Mako proposal, how are you going to..."
It's almost as if most of us have a default setting as a business leader that prompts us to continuously see how much more work there is to do and how many more miles there is to travel.
The cost to this behavior is that many of your team members are left feeling like they can never fully satisfy you.
I remember an old sports coach I used to play for when I was on the United States National Field Hockey team. He'd stand 100 yards away and have us sprint towards him. Now this was at the end of a 2 hour training session and we were all exhausted. As we raced towards him he'd start to back up, forcing us to run further. I remember how upsetting that felt there at after putting in a full training session.
Many leaders unwittingly do the same thing - they move the finish line further. That observation I shared earlier was exactly this - me constantly moving the finish line up higher and higher on my team.
Here is a simple technique that I've found has really helped me embrace and own helping my team feel the successes they've made. Ready? Here it is. It's so simple, so easy that you may say, "Is that all?" But it just works wonders to give ambitious leaders like you and me a way to start to shift how we lead. Start each meeting by sharing victories.
Having coached hundreds of business leaders to use this technique here's the best practice to make this work.
Start by asking your team to each take a minute and write down one victory they've observed the team make since last you met as a team. Give them a moment to jot their idea down.
Then simply go around the room and have each person share his or her victory. You will get answers like:
"We increased conversion rates by 12 percent."
"Alex closed the Donovan deal."
"Our on time delivery rate went up by 5%."
"I got Acme Inc. to lower its pricing by $30,450."
"We found a simple fix for the website glitch and had the site fully functional in 2 hours."
Celebrating victories just means to pause - if only for a moment - to see the progress that you've made. To savor that moment.
This allows your team to feel successful.
To be clear, this isn't about "rah, rah" motivation. I'm not suggesting that you ignore problems or gloss over the work to be done. Instead I'm encouraging you to develop a practice in your company of noticing and feeling the progress that you've made, and building on that progress.
Your team will be empowered and you'll slowly start to retrain yourself as a leader to see the progress you're making as a team. Then, from this inspired, empowered place, you can collectively go on to talk about the work that is still to be done.
For me this was the first step in growing into a more inspiring leader and I know it will make a real impact for you.