There's a really good reason you need to give your employees (or any colleague or coworker) positive feedback. It's not always to create a healthy atmosphere or to make people feel good, although those things are incredibly important. Feedback is more than a tool of direction and instruction. It's a gift you give to yourself.
Let me explain. When you give feedback, you are directing an employee to find the right course of action, which in turn means the employee is doing what will help you and the company the most, which then pays you back in dividends. I'm not saying you should give feedback with impure motives -- be as genuine as possible. However, you should see feedback as more than a course correction for that employee. Feedback should not just be "you did this right and you should be happy" and that's the end result. It should be "you did this right and, when you know that and keep doing that, you help the company"-and, your job as a leader gets easier. You can lead more effectively.
You might already know that feedback is a mechanism for change and increased productivity. It's as old as the sandwich principle (give one praise, one word of critique, and one word of praise). Without feedback, you create a guessing game for everyone. You make people try things to see if they work and see if you like them instead of giving them the answer they need. Feedback helps people understand what you want and how to do their jobs.
But you have to go beyond that basic understanding.
Here's one example. I hired two different interns over the late spring and summer. It's mostly a chance for the intern to learn, but it can be a waste of time if my job gets harder and there's no benefit at all. So, the best interns need to provide some benefit to the company. I tried to give both interns constant feedback on what worked. If an intern did a good job handling some research, I'd praise him for finding the right answers. When the interns received praise, they kept doing those things, which provided more benefit. They worked faster and smarter.
Now, they also felt encouraged and felt good about their performance. That's one side benefit -- employees want to please the boss. Yet, it's not just a way of saying "keep doing that" and creating a pleasant work environment. Parents praise their kids as a way to keep them on track. Good leaders know how to praise employees. However, the end goal is for the work of a highly praised employee to provide the greatest benefit as a whole to the company itself. Those who are highly praised and fairly critiqued produce better results. They work smarter.
Here's another example. One of my side jobs is to review albums. It's really enjoyable, but it can be frustrating when the reps for bands don't quite seem to get which style of music is usually a fit for my coverage. I can educate them until I'm blue in the face. Yet, it's when I give positive feedback that I finally get somewhere. Someone recommends an album to me and it's a perfect fit. I tell them-that was a brilliant suggestion! Now my job is easier. The rep knows what works. The rep feels good about their suggestion and will make more of those suggestions.
Did you catch the difference, though? It's not just about educating the rep. It's about making the job of working with that person easier. The feedback is a means to an end.
Isn't this really what creates a good working relationship? Isn't this what creates incredible companies? When there's someone who praises other employees and it creates a symbiotic relationship where the team knows what pleases the leader and then keeps doing that? That's what creates a successful company. That's what generates massive revenue.
Try seeing feedback this way in your job. When you praise, start viewing it as a mechanism of success, not just because everyone is happy, but because everyone is understood. Hand out praise as a way to smooth over the rough edges that make leadership more difficult.