William James, the father of psychology, stated that the most fundamental psychological need is to be appreciated. We all want to feel fully appreciated for our work. The payoff for inspiring leaders is that people do more for those who appreciate them. Although leaders widely recognize the need for appreciation, it tends to be a blind spot. That is, they generally believe they are much more appreciative of their teams than their teams think they are.

For example, I think I am more appreciative of my wife than she feels I am. The same can be said of most leaders and team members. The reason is that you often do not convert your invisible thoughts of appreciation into visible acts of appreciation. With all of today's technology options, it's easy to find yourself too busy for face-to-face interaction, but that's one of the best ways to charge up your team. Showing appreciation is not a matter of time and intention; rather, it's a matter of priority and action.

Research by former Gallup chairman the late Donald Clifton revealed that work groups with at least a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions were significantly more productive than those having less than a 3-to-1 ratio. In other words, more productive teams had at least three positive interactions for every one negative interaction. By the way, the same study showed the bar was set even higher for more successful marriages--the key ratio was 5 to 1. Showing your appreciation is certainly a positive interaction and is a simple way to boost your ratio.

Consider tracking your ratio for a week to gauge how well you are appreciating your team. Look for opportunities to acknowledge your team's results and positive progress. This is basic psychology--reinforce those behaviors that you want to see more frequently. Catch them doing something right, and do it often. If you look for ways team members are doing something right, opportunities to reinforce the team will be plentiful. The key is to be sincere and specific. In other words, don't fall into the trap of blurting out the robotic "Good job." Take the time to thoughtfully explain why you appreciated the specific action taken by a team member.

For example, you might say, "Kayla, I really appreciate the way you quickly resolved that customer issue without adding more time or cost to our delivery schedule. That makes a big difference for the company." Demonstrating appreciation for your team members and their efforts can put them on the fast track to inspired performance. There should be plenty of opportunities, since a Harris poll found that 65 percent of the workers reported receiving no recognition for good work in the past year! That's a pretty low bar. So don't worry about recognizing your team too much. In fact, there are no documented studies of any team ever feeling overappreciated.

Here are seven simple ways to demonstrate your appreciation for your team:

  1. Say "thank you"--an all-too-obvious, yet highly underused form of appreciation.
  2. Go old school and write a card or note to a team member expressing why you appreciate him or her.
  3. Allow your team to present their work to your boss. This is a great way to engage your team, and it also shows your boss what kind of leader you are.
  4. Offer team members a choice of projects on which to work. When team members buy into a project, they will put their hearts into it.
  5. Put a sincere acknowledgment of a team member in your company or department newsletter. This takes only a few minutes of your time but creates long-term "trophy value" for the employee.
  6. Tell an employee's story of accomplishment at a staff meeting. Detailed stories are perceived as more interesting, meaningful, thoughtful, and memorable.
  7. Take a team member to lunch to show your appreciation. Remember to do more listening than talking.

Find ways that are natural and comfortable for you to demonstrate your appreciation, since your authenticity is the key. The good news is that you have complete control over your appreciation. No budget limitations or excuses here--there are literally thousands of ways to demonstrate your appreciation at little or no cost.

For more practical tips, see the author's book, Leadership Matters. It contains 31 daily insights to inspire extraordinary results.

Published on: Nov 19, 2014
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