Nancy walked into my coaching office looking exasperated.
"You don't look all that happy," I said. "How can I help?"
"I'm so demoralized at work," she quickly responded. "My boss never gives me recognition or credit for what I do, despite working long hours and achieving great results."
"Interesting," I said. "So, tell me, Nancy, how often do you acknowledge what your team members do well at work?"
Nancy paused and looked at me. Then, she smiled and chuckled quietly.
"Truthfully... hardly ever," she said. "I'm always so busy finding and fixing problems, so I generally don't acknowledge others. If I'm not offering kudos, I guess I shouldn't expect to receive kudos back, right?"
"What would you like to do about that?" I asked.
That's what began Nancy's "homework assignment" of regularly giving compliments to her team. We set up three key guidelines:
- focus on what others were doing right instead of wrong;
- compliment at least three individuals per day; and
- make sure that every acknowledgment is genuine, well-deserved, and specific.
How did it go? Nancy described the outcome of her assignment as "astounding." Within the span of a few short weeks, her direct reports started coming in to work earlier, getting more done, their spirits were brighter, and relationships were improving.
Nancy learned an important self-leadership lesson - that making a little bit of effort to recognize others can create a significant difference. And that difference was not just in morale, but in productivity and outcomes, too. So, recognizing others isn't just the right thing to do for those individuals, it's the right thing to do for the company as a whole.
By the way, Nancy also started acknowledging her boss when she noticed him doing something well. Guess what came out of that? He began to pay her compliments more often, too. The benefits were full-circle.
Even just the act of saying "thank you" can have an enormous impact. Think about it: Don't you respond well when someone thanks you for what you've done? As leaders, it's important that we say thank you to our team, our colleagues, and our superiors regularly, not just on occasion. Not only does gratitude motivate others, but you set an example that can change the entire mood and culture of your organization. And it strengthens how people perceive, think, and feel about you as a leader at work.
Focusing On What's Right
You'll notice that part of Nancy's assignment was to focus on what others were doing right instead of what they were doing wrong. What about you? How often do you focus on what's going right on the job? Or, do you find it easier to focus on what needs to improve?
Many leaders do the latter. It's far too easy to take the good things for granted while we place our attention on fixing what isn't working so well. While it's important to move the organization and your team forward by addressing problems, it's equally important to acknowledge what is already working.
Noticing the "good" is actually a big stress-reliever, too. When we worry about what needs to be fixed, we can lose perspective, thinking that the problems are bigger than they actually are. The old adage holds true: What you focus on grows.
If, on the other hand, we take the time to recognize where progress has already been made, we can relax a little, even in the face of difficult challenges.
What's more, focusing on what's right is a greater motivator for your team and everyone else in your organization. Always concentrating on what's going wrong is exhausting, demoralizing, and self-defeating. Who can improve and approach problem solving in a positive way when morale is low? And it does nothing for your brand as a leader either.