Generous leaders win in the end

“I praise loudly, I blame softly” Catherine II of Russia

JUST IMAGINE......You’ve worked on a complex and frustrating project these past months. You solved the problem and made what you see as a positive contribution to the company? You’re all fired up, bursting to tell someone, especially your boss. You wait and wait for them to say something good about your efforts, any kind of recognition will do. Just one word of encouragement! NOTHING!

You’re frustrated, let down and de-motivated. Where do you go now? Do you want to do anything for this manager, for this company? Deep down you feel you don’t matter.

When was the last time you experienced this? Maybe you have always been in the power position? If you are running a company what does it feel like when no matter what you’ve done you just cannot get enough sales over the line, revenue is falling, costs are rising? That mixed feeling of fear, anger and rejections is exactly how your member of staff felt when you didn’t affirm them for contributing to the great good of the business. Take a moment to see how their fear, anger and sense of rejection feed into the business’s performance.

We grow up with a powerful need to belong, initially to our family and then to other peers or interest groups. How can we feel a more integral part of our “group” at work and how does this convert into enhanced performance?

First, we must learn how to “belong” to ourselves, and second how to belong to our group or team. We learn to give ourselves appropriate authentic praise and integrate it into our core. If we can’t learn to give praise to ourselves when it’s due, how can we affirm to anyone else?

Praise is essentially useless if it’s disproportionate or inappropriate. Simply telling people ten times a day how wonderful they are, becomes boring and meaningless.

People sense quickly when praise doesn’t match their actions. It’s no good saying “well done” if you don’t say what it was for, you’re not clear what they contributed to the cause, and most of all if you don’t mean it. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, our experiences link most strongly when the reward is given at the time of our action. So, if you wish to reward or prevent a specific behaviour it’s most effective done in the moment.

To master the art of affirmation is simple and does not need a complex reward scheme with many layers. Research confirms simply saying “thank you” at the time when someone does something good for you can be enough. It’s remarkable how little this is done and how powerful it is when said sincerely.

Show your confidence in people by letting them get on with what they’re good at; delegate appropriately and regularly. Be there and take one for the “Team” when it counts. A good leader scans the horizon sensing changes in the organisation and its culture, ensuring the “Team’s” actions map onto the organisation’s strategy. Your obvious commitment to them is essential. I recommend you look at the story of Timpson a family-owned company centred on high street cobblers and locksmiths. They have a history of empowering and rewarding their staff. Until the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown they had never carried debt but their CEO James Timpson saw he needed to ensure his company’s future post lockdown. He did that by taking on £50million overdraft to keep paying rent and paying his staff. This was a grand affirmation with perfect timing. The result was he lost no staff and he is reopening all of his shops (with carefully crafted social distancing). If his staff didn’t already know how much James valued them, they sure do now!

If you step up to the plate with the small and the big stuff your team will see it. They will notice you working for them, and when push comes to shove, you’re one of them. They’ll include you, ensuring you belong to the team and not separate. It’s good for team morale, and it’s good for your morale. Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you’ve outgrown of your need to belong.

Over forty years as a teacher, manager and consultant I’ve seen praise given authentically and it creates deep and lasting trust and is the lifeblood of every team. It’s hard to create trust, it’s easy to lose and can be lost in the blink of an eye. Accurate and honest praise is crucial to maintaining trust, and when we trust we relax, work more freely, think more creatively and execute more bravely.

With trust at its core, an organisation purrs along in fifth gear. It is economical with fuel there’s less crashing of gears, steering is a joy and our speed and endurance rises. In other words, we get to our chosen destination quicker and still feeling fresh and ready for more miles the following day!

Your Actions Today

· Did you praise anyone today? What was going through your mind at the time?

· Was your praise appropriate and in proportion?

· How did they respond? (verbally and body language)

· How often have you delegated to this person?

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