Imagine the following scenario:
You've toiled on a major project for months. The client is difficult, unthankful, and demanding. You've worked hard, but you're not seeing the results you expected. You just want to get this assignment over with and move on to something else.
Suddenly, your boss calls you in for a meeting. "Great," you think. "What more could go wrong?"
As you're sitting there in front of his desk, he starts the conversation:
"Look, I've been meaning to speak with you. I know I don't say this enough...but I really appreciate what you're doing here. The way you've been handling this client--you're doing a heckuva job. I've worked with them before; I know how difficult they are. In fact, I honestly don't know how you've been able to keep up with their demands up to this point. They're more satisfied with the way this project is going than any we've led for them in the past.
You know what I really appreciate the most? The fact that you've dealt with them so professionally. Keep up the good work."
How do you think you'd feel after that?
After years of consulting for dozens of companies, I've learned that few things have the motivating power of authentic praise. When I've written about this topic in the past, I've received messages from people all over the world like the following:
- "There's nothing more disheartening than doing a good job every day, to only be recognized when you mess up."
- "I just cannot comprehend how management doesn't get this concept. Of course, money is a motivator for everyone but feeling valued and hearing praise is too. Everyone, in every aspect of their life, wants to hear they're appreciated."
- "It's so obvious but so many 'leaders' miss the opportunity to say well done."
You've Got to Keep It Real
So here's the thing: Praise only works if it's genuine. Sincere. Authentic .
This isn't a gimmick, or a simple task you're checking off a list. It's a mindset. You must constantly be looking for the positive in your employees, partners, and teammates. Of course, everyone needs constructive criticism at times. But that will come naturally; if you see a damaging behavior that begs correcting, you'll be moved to address it.
Why not view praise in the same way? If you see something you like, tell the person as soon as possible. If you can't do it immediately, make a note or set a reminder to make sure you don't forget.
Again, the key is making it genuine. Empty flattery or a simple "going through the motions" will backfire. People detect insincerity from a mile away. You need to train yourself to truly see the best in others.
Here's How to Do It Right
So how do you do praise honestly and authentically? Make sure to do the following:
1. Look for the good.
Some leaders I've worked with struggle with giving commendation. As one client of mine expressed:
"You say 'be authentic.' But you can't praise everyone, right?"
Everyone deserves to be praised for something. Maybe it's the fact that they've stayed loyal to the company for years. Or that they haven't completely given up on a difficult project, despite personal struggles. If you're leading a team, your job is to show appreciation to each and every team member.
At times, that means looking for the potential in others. If you see something in your people that they don't even see in themselves, you help to create self-fulfilling prophecies. (Check out this great study, highlighted in point three of a previous article.)
They'll get better because you believe they can.
2. Be specific.
Tell people exactly what you appreciate about their work.
When you show evidence of paying attention to a team member's efforts, that feels good. That closer look helps people to see that their work isn't in vain.
Take time to think about each individual's contribution, then express to them specifically what you value about them.
Putting It All Together
Give some thought to your own leadership style. When's the last time you told members of your team that you appreciated them? Or told them specifically what you appreciate? Or let them know how much you enjoy working with them?
A few moments of sincere praise will do wonders for employee morale. It will bring the best out of people--and their work. Often, you'll find that they praise you right back for taking the time to express yourself.
That's the power of authentic praise.