This edition is for anyone who finds themselves trying to lead with positivity. I cannot overemphasize the importance of recognition when someone “gets it right”, but hear me when I tell you this is especially important in an environment that is fast-paced where perfection is the expectation. In a high-accountability environment, leaders are prone to focus on what didn’t go right and miss opportunities all around them to recognize what did. If you want to be a leader who earns the appreciation of those who follow you because they know you appreciate their efforts, this is for you. I’ve split my advice into two parts:
- looking for recognition opportunities from outside your organization, and…
- recognizing those on your internal team.
I hope you are able to get a couple of good ideas through my stories here.
External: I’m a high maintenance relationship professionally because I expect anyone we do business with to be as perfect as we want to be. That means I lean hard on anyone I refer to a client because the client sees that referral partner as an extension of our team. They also associate their experience with any introduction I make as a part of the overall experience doing business with us. It can make or break whether they come back or never call us again. I also hold them to a very high standard on how they treat anyone on my team(s) because the people I lead deserve the same respect and professionalism extended to our clients. So when an interaction falls short of perfection, I’m letting them know about it and working to find out how it could have been handled better. But please hear me on this…if that’s all I ever do, no one will ever think it’s worth working hard for me. I have to find opportunities to praise them when they hit the mark as well.
This past week, we had a professional partner of ours really go out of her way to help a member of our team at a crucial time in the month when we really needed her to come through. Knowing how difficult it can be to meet our expectations, she could have easily decided there was no way to make it work and move on to helping another client. But she put us at the top of the list and really came through. On my drive home that day, I called her boss to brag on her, but she answered the phone. So I let her know right there how much I appreciated her coming through for us and let her know I was really calling her boss to brag on her. We also sent her a little surprise to her office this week as an additional sign of our appreciation. Her boss called me today and let me know that it made her weekend that I had taken the time to recognize her, and that I would go to the trouble of letting him know about her effort. Now let all that sink in. Simple gesture to recognize her effort by taking a minute to call, along with a personalized ‘thank you’ from me just as a cherry on the top. Simple! Do you think she’ll remember that the next time we need to lean on her to perform for us or a client? Do you think she’ll make our relationship a priority for years to come? Of course she will. Not because she has to or because she gets paid to, but because she wants to.
Internal: Have I mentioned before that we have a high-accountability environment? As I’ve said, it’s not easy to work for us. But I make it easy to work for me. If you’re on one of my teams, I go out of my way to make sure you know where you stand, how you’re doing, and find ways to show appreciation for the effort you bring. If I do that well, I never have to question whether you’re going to work hard for me, and you never have to question that I’m looking for ways to be your advocate. Something I do every week is write hand-written thank-you notes to people on our team, even if it’s just to tell them I noticed something they did. At first, I had to set a calendar reminder, because it was something I did verbally all the time, but I had to force myself to do it via a written note. And the impact of that is multiples over a passing comment in the hall. But sometimes, I’ll get really creative to make an even bigger impact.
Last winter, I took several of our leaders on an off-site to chart out a growth plan for the year, and also to better define some job descriptions for several of our positions in the company. I was taking these leaders away from their families for 3 days and I decided to write a note to each of their spouses and mail it to them, to arrive the day after we left. The note was a simple ‘thank you’ for allowing me to take up their honey’s time and a promise from me that I was doing my part as their leader to help them advance their career. Each note was personalized with something I appreciated about their spouse and how they were fortunate to have great support at home. Several of those leaders told me later, once they found out I had written their spouse, how much it was appreciated that I would take the time to do that. But also, it was appreciated that I recognized a spouse’s role in supporting their development. Little things like this are huge and go a long way. Now, when I need to lean on my team to put in the extra hours or to travel for the company, I can be confident they are supported from home, and that is huge for a developing leader. Also, by doing something simple like this, I have earned serious relationship credibility with these leaders when I have to hold them accountable. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that if you don’t make a point to recognize someone for getting it right, you will ultimately build resentment among your team and be surrounded by people who will work just hard enough to keep the job. Why in the world would you want that when it takes only a little extra effort on your part to get the best and most out of everyone daily?
You can steal these ideas if you want, but I think you should also be able to use your creativity to come up with ways you can accomplish the same results. Put it on your calendar to start if you have to, but do it. And do it over again, and again until it becomes a habit. It won’t take long for you to see the fruit of it in your professional relationships. Don’t forget, as you climb the ladder and continue to achieve success, you will need to lean on these people more and more to ensure your organization is staying relevant to those you serve. Don’t make it harder on yourself by only being hard on them. They’ll gladly reward your recognition with a loyalty money can’t buy.