As a business leader, at some point you'll be called upon to share your journey of growth and lessons learned from early challenges, responsibilities, and jobs. I've been on the receiving end of these questions a few times - usually something along the lines of "What was the most important lesson you learned in your first job?"

My first "real" job was in television, and I often share stories related to team building and creativity from that experience. But before I worked in television, I balanced my college course load with waiting tables to pay the bills.

Call me crazy, but I loved waiting tables in a busy restaurant. I loved the energy, the challenge to stay focused on efficiency, and how it taught me to maintain my calm game face under all circumstances. But the biggest lesson I learned from those years waiting tables was the singular power of acknowledgment.

Humans crave recognition and are hurt when they feel their goodwill is ignored. As a diner, you know how annoyed you become when you sit for a long time with no greeting, no drink order, no "I'll be right with you." The concept carries over business in a few ways.

Acknowledgment in Conflict Resolution

In service, acknowledgment is the first step towards resolving conflict. A well-trained customer service employee understands the power of acknowledgment to make a customer feel heard. Whether it's simply repeating back your understanding of the problem to confirm understanding when an employee comes to you with an issue, or a statement of empathy to indicate you're there to help vs fight, acknowledging the other person's feelings is the first step towards finding a resolution.

Acknowledgment as Culture

As a leader, acknowledging your team's contributions goes a long way towards boosting morale. It's important for you to publicly recognize and thank team members who exemplify your company's values and take extraordinary measures to excel in their roles.

For example, at my company we carve out time during a regular "huddle" meeting for team members to pause and publicly recognize somebody who went above and beyond to serve a coworker or client, tying that action back to a related core value (often "stewardship" in our case). It can be top-down, peer-to-peer, or directed up the chain at management. In all cases, it reinforces what we believe our shared behavior should embody.

Acknowledgment as Empowerment

One of the most common reasons why an employee quits is feeling underappreciated. Whether that's because they never hear "thank you," never get a raise, or never receive more challenging responsibilities, that feeling can lead to burnout quickly.

A simple acknowledgment of an employee's contributions during a regular one-to-one can help to head off that frustration and build the employee's confidence in their own skills, empowering them to do and achieve more.

Acknowledgment is connected to recognition, which is critical in driving employee satisfaction and minimizing turnover. Showing your team how much you value them should be a part of your daily behavior, just as it is for that waitress who still hasn't brought over your iced tea.

Published on: Jun 21, 2018