how do I recognize my employees?

Recognition Power Words: The Phrases that Mean the Most

Twice this year someone has told me “I am proud of you.” Both times, I was surprised to find myself really choked up. My reaction was so strong that I got to thinking about why. I wanted to understand what it was about THIS recognition that made an impact, so I could do a better job of giving THAT kind of recognition to others.

“Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
~Rudyard Kipling

Who: In both circumstances, I had deep respect for the person who said it.

What: What I had accomplished was important to me, and it felt wonderful that others were noticing.

The Words: The words were powerful.

There is something about being recognized at just the right time, by just the right person, with just the right words. When done well, those words can stay with us forever.

And so, inspired by these moments, I reached out my on-line communities of leadership thinkers, coaches and writers and asked:

“What words make the biggest impact when providing recognition?”

I got lots of inspired and heart-felt responses from many people across multiple groups. There is real power in the on-line leadership thinking community. Several leaders weighed in that the most important part is the specific examples, acknowledging the details of the contribution. Others shared the value of a handwritten note that is “simple, timely, and personal.” Several rightfully warned that people are motivated by different things, and trying to project our preferences on others is a mistake.

The most dialogue came from the LinkedIn Organizational Development and Training Forum.

Sara Ting raised the consideration of culture and how that impacts how we want to be recognized, and how we approach recognizing others.

Marian Thier discussed the psychological impact of our words: for example, “I’m proud of you” could connote a parental approval relationship, while “well done” sounds more masculine and non-specific, “like an athletic coach.”

Dayrl Cowie provided possibilities for meaningful words based on personality types:

“Inspiring Personalities (e.g. sales people): “That was awesome”, “I really owe you one” (fun, give & take type words)
Commanding Personalities (e.g. directors): “Nice job” “That’s why you’re the man” (ego, self-esteem)
Supporting Personalities: “Wow everyone loved that” “I really like what you did for everyone” (Everybody loves you)
Analyzing Personalities:”That was brilliant” “How did you do that?” “Way to stand up for what you believe in” (How’d you do that? or, congratulations on moral grounds)”

All fantastic conversation and interesting points.

The majority weighed in with the words and phrases that have meant the most to them, or that they tend to rely on.

I conclude with these words as an offering for this week’s Saturday Salutation.

Recognition Power Phrases

  • I trust you
  • Great idea! Let’s go with it.
  • You have made a significant contribution to ___.
  • You really helped me out
  • You’re a difference maker
  • You are a gem
  • This is one of the best__I’ve seen
  • We could learn a lot from __ about this
  • We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for ___
  • ___ has set a new standard of excellence for us all to strive toward
  • Glad to have you as part of OUR team
  • You are doing exactly what you were meant to do in this life

Words That Stand Alone

  • Excellent
  • Outstanding
  • Inspirational
  • Exceptional
  • Extraordinary
  • Remarkable
  • Natural

Humility Matters: 9 Ways Confident Leaders Remain Humble

We want to follow people with confidence, charisma and a strong sense of direction. Confidence inspires, attracts, excites and ignites. We think, “they sure do seem to know what they’re doing” And yet, I have observed that confidence, without humility, can be dangerous. I have seen it significantly limit a leader’s effectiveness. They stay their course, but may miss important input. People may follow, but not with their full spirit. Truly confident leaders are secure enough to embrace and share their humility. In the long run, their humility makes them stronger.

“What the world needs now is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.”
~Oscar Levant

Michael Carroll describes the “talent of humility,” in his book The Mindful Leader. He shares that when leaders understand they are part of a much bigger scene that is not fully within their control, they are free to show up more human. It’s from that humility, that they can confidently show up to do the best work possible. They offer more of their whole selves to the moment.

“Humility is how we express our delight– how we appreciate the simple pleasures and great joys. And equally, humility is how we open to life’s inconveniences and devastating tragedies. When we are humble, no experience is beneath us, no colleague is unworthy, no moment does not merit our full attention. Because we are humble, we do not pick and chose– savoring only the tasty parts of life and leaving the rest for others. We are wiling to experience the entire situation directly and work with every detail.”

I have been observing the leaders I admire who seem to striving for confident humility. Here’s 9 things I’m picking up. Please share your thoughts on the 10th.

9 Ways Confident Leaders Express Humility

  1. Understand they don’t have all the answers– and search for more
  2. Attract those who will tell the truth– and be able to hear them
  3. Reflect on their own leadership– and seek out change as needed
  4. Read about other approaches– and adjust
  5. Seek out mentors– from all levels
  6. Share more about themselves and create connections
  7. Seek to learn about the people they work with– and see them as people
  8. Try out new behaviors and ask for feedback
  9. Take stands against the politically correct choice
  10. ??? (please share your thoughts)

Stupid Feedback: When Stupid Smarts and What to Do About It

We’ve all been on the receiving end of stupid feedback from time to time. It’s mean. It hurts. And it isn’t useful or is it?

Feedback is stupid when it’s alarming but not specific when we leave the conversation not understanding what to learn, or have any inkling about what to change. It’s easy to become frustrated and defensive.

A stupid example

I just spoke with an old friend. He was visibly distraught, “I was just told I am not a good leader,”

“Oh, why?”

No tangible examples

“What? That’s stupid feedback,” I replied.

And then, my brain went into one of those spins where I tried to concurrently entertain two competing thoughts leaving me with this divergent response:

1. “You can’t take that seriously”

2. “You must take that seriously”

What’s stupid

I have seen this guy lead up close. He’s got a lot of good going on. This kind of feedback destroys confidence. Even if there are issues, broad statements like this from someone in a position of power are not productive.

I then asked him to tell me why he knows he is a good leader he had a nice list.

Why it’s still serious

And then the tougher conversation.

What was driving this impression and subsequent feedback?

Who else was hearing this view?

Is there real feedback here to be understood and acted upon?

Looking beyond stupid

I began to think of some of the really vague and frustrating feedback I’ve received over the years. Usually, once I got past the emotional reaction, there was some nugget worth learning.

The lesson was not always obvious, but there was value in the digging.

Some approaches that can help

  • Examine the bigger context as objectively as possible
  • Calm down, and then go back and ask for clarification, examples, and help
  • Seek feedback from others, are there patterns to be understood?
  • Consider a 360 Feedback assessment
  • Look for a coach or mentor to support
  • And then again, after open-minded consideration, it’s possible that the feedback is not being given from a helpful place. That’s a discovery too

Even when delivered clumsily or from a biased viewpoint, feedback may offer some value. If we can look beyond the delivery, we may be surprised by what we can learn.

Team Trouble? How to Build a Team One Person at a Time

My phone rang again this week. It was a front-line leader I have known for years having team trouble.

“I can’t get them motivated. They just don’t seem to care like I do. I am not sure what to do, I’ve tried everything.”

I have received this same call many times over the years, not from this person but from others in similar circumstances.

When the frustration level hits a wall like that, I go back to my most fundamental belief about team building: great teams are built one person at a time.

Until that fundamental trust is built between the leader and each individual team member, team meetings will likely remain superficial and team builders won’t get much traction.

Also, it’s a lot less daunting to think about how you can empower one person’s success, rather than feeling like you need to influence an entire team all at once.

Doing this involves meeting the person where they are. And as Dan Rockwell suggests, adapting your style the person you are working to influence.

Steps for One Person at a Time Team Building

Set the stage with the group

  • Start positive: express your commitment to their development
  • Be careful not to position it as fixing something broken
  • Let the team know you will be reaching out to set up individual meetings

Prepare by thinking about your impressions of each person

  • What are they most proud of?
  • What do they care most about?
  • What excites them?
  • What’s their biggest strength?
  • What seems to scare them?
  • Who do they respect? Why?
  • What is their role on the team?
  • What do they want to do next?

Hold individual discussions

  • Ask some of the questions above
  • Really listen
  • Resist the urge to comment or challenge, take it all in
  • Consider: what surprised you? What did you learn?
  • Agree on one or two key actions with measurements of success
  • Pick one great thing and ask them to share back at the next team meeting
  • Establish time to check in

On the side

  • Find time to learn more about who they are and what they do outside of work
  • Share a bit about yourself and look for common interests
  • Look for opportunities to work with them on something fun
  • Encourage opportunities for team members to work together

Incorporate some highlights into future team meetings

  • Start with asking each team member to share something they are proud of
  • Ask them to share a best practice or teach something
  • Have them share wins around their key actions

Please share your experiences what team building techniques have worked best for you?

The Reluctant Leader: Why Confidence Matters

Sometimes people find themselves in positions of leadership before their self-confidence has caught up with them, and are reluctant to lead.

Helping reluctant leaders to see themselves as the leaders they are, can make them more powerful. Here’s a story of why confidence matters.

Yesterday I herded cattle.

Not by myself, but with an eclectic group of 7 other novice city slickers out to try something new.

As we began our journey, I overheard our reluctant young cowgirl guide tell her friend “you know this is just so hard for me, I am not a leader, I am much better at following.”

She then proceeded to guide us on a journey which involved the complex balancing act of leading horses, cows, annoyed bulls, and inexperienced, unconnected strangers. Everyone followed. She knew what she was doing and she taught us well.

Under her competent leadership, we all worked together and herded the cattle just where they needed to go— having fun along the way. When one of us would get mixed up in the middle of the mooing mass, she would shout “you’re a cow!” That was our signal to move to a more productive and safer space. She used everyone’s name, and constantly checked in with each person on their feelings and how they were connecting with their horse.

She was indeed a leader.

Except for one thing.

She lacked confidence which surfaced in the way she spoke of herself.

“Oh, I am not very good at getting people’s attention.” “I really talk too much, it’s not good sometimes I just can’t stop talking.”

I watched as people were leaving, and I am fairly certain this impacted her tips.

She was teaching people what to think about her.

As leaders, what we say about ourselves matters a lot.

How can we help young leaders to feel more confident in their abilities?

 

Leadership, Influence and Self-Deception

In the context of the conversation on “influence,” my friend, Lisa Kohn turned me on to The Arbinger Institute’s work on Leadership and Self-Deception. Not a new book (first published in 2000), but quite useful in this context.

The main idea, in any leadership role, we must first look deeply at ourselves– and understand how our experiences and motives impact our view of others.

“Self-deception, blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions.”

The first obstacle is understanding when we are operating from a less than objective place.

The irony is that even when we think we are working on a conflict, or working on ourselves, we can’t really do it, if there is self-deception involved.

From a place like this, it’s tough to.

change ourselves (because we don’t believe we need to)

implement new skills or techniques (because we are not truly open)

communicate clearly (because we are not sure how it will be received)

reach compromise (because we believe our way is right)

what else?

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

The conversational thread following my post last week on Email as a Reflective Practice led me to a fantastic post from Germane Consulting group, Dear Leader:  Do We Have a Deal?

They imagine a letter written by an employee to a CEO, looking for all they need spiritually and developmentally from the relationship.

Here are a  few key points from the letter in the Germane post:

  • Trust me to do the things you brought me here to do, and then some.
  • Know, I mean really know in your heart and mind, I am a rich (not in dollars) human being with a multidimensional life, and please take that into account
  • Time and space to play with others, because that’s another way I learn and come up with really good ideas

What if my employees wrote me such a letter?  What would it say?

Asking folks to write such a letter would be a fantastic way to start a new job… both as reflection for the team, but as vital input to set the cultural stage and norms.

I may just do that in my next role.

But what can I do now?   I just did an open-ended employee survey (and received lots of great candid insights), and I have my team doing the “mid year, end of year letter” I talked about in the Email as Reflective Practice post.  So asking my team for more writing at this stage of the game, is not in the cards.

So, as a reflective practice, I am writing myself a letter.  A composite of the hopes and asks I have heard from my teams over the years.  An aspirational list I use to guide my actions… sometimes more effectively than others. Not yet written down until this rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Letter To Myself

Dear Karin,

Here are the things we need most from you as a leader.

  • Establish a trusted place at the table–the more credibility you have at the senior levels, the more you can advocate for what we need to accomplish.
  • Say the tough things that need to be said– nudge us to do that too.
  • Be transparent about what is going on–trust us with the real story.
  • Help us understand how you think and process, let us in your head.
  • Build a strong and diverse team–let us hash out our differences without getting involved.
  • Care deeply about our careers and help us to grow– continue to support us after you have moved to the next role.
  • Encourage us to take risks– be gentle when we fail.
  • Tell us when you screw up– maybe we can avoid the same landmines.
  • Give us direct and candid feedback (but sugar coat it a bit more than you sometimes do).
  • Come to the field with us, roll up your sleeves and get involved, that’s how you will learn.
  • But, don’t get too involved, we’ve got this.
  • Let us use your energy strategically, in recognition and in large events.
  • Role model work-life balance– be interested in, and support us in our outside lives
“I am grateful for all the teaching my teams have done through the years to guide my development as a leader.”

Namaste.
Karin

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

The conversational thread following my post last week on Email as a Reflective Practice led me to a fantastic post from Germane Consulting group, Dear Leader:  Do We Have a Deal?

They imagine a letter written by an employee to a CEO, looking for all they need spiritually and developmentally from the relationship.

Here are a  few key points from the letter in the Germane post:

  • Trust me to do the things you brought me here to do, and then some.
  • Know, I mean really know in your heart and mind, I am a rich (not in dollars) human being with a multidimensional life, and please take that into account
  • Time and space to play with others, because that’s another way I learn and come up with really good ideas

What if my employees wrote me such a letter?  What would it say?

Asking folks to write such a letter would be a fantastic way to start a new job… both as reflection for the team, but as vital input to set the cultural stage and norms.

I may just do that in my next role.

But what can I do now?   I just did an open-ended employee survey (and received lots of great candid insights), and I have my team doing the “mid year, end of year letter” I talked about in the Email as Reflective Practice post.  So asking my team for more writing at this stage of the game, is not in the cards.

So, as a reflective practice, I am writing myself a letter.  A composite of the hopes and asks I have heard from my teams over the years.  An aspirational list I use to guide my actions… sometimes more effectively than others. Not yet written down until this rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Letter To Myself

Dear Karin,

Here are the things we need most from you as a leader.

  • Establish a trusted place at the table–the more credibility you have at the senior levels, the more you can advocate for what we need to accomplish.
  • Say the tough things that need to be said– nudge us to do that too.
  • Be transparent about what is going on–trust us with the real story.
  • Help us understand how you think and process, let us in your head.
  • Build a strong and diverse team–let us hash out our differences without getting involved.
  • Care deeply about our careers and help us to grow– continue to support us after you have moved to the next role.
  • Encourage us to take risks– be gentle when we fail.
  • Tell us when you screw up– maybe we can avoid the same landmines.
  • Give us direct and candid feedback (but sugar coat it a bit more than you sometimes do).
  • Come to the field with us, roll up your sleeves and get involved, that’s how you will learn.
  • But, don’t get too involved, we’ve got this.
  • Let us use your energy strategically, in recognition and in large events.
  • Role model work-life balance– be interested in, and support us in our outside lives
“I am grateful for all the teaching my teams have done through the years to guide my development as a leader.”

Namaste.
Karin

Failing Better: Please Help Me Fail

Failing happens. Helping our teams to learn from failure can be one of the most vital aspects of our role as leaders. Even when the situation seems devastating, how we show up can make a tremendous difference in someone’s growth.

John Maxwell talks about this well in “Failing Forward.” In fact, I have bought many copies of his work, and have shared them over the years when the time seemed right. I have also used the concepts to help recover from my own mishaps.

Failure is the key to success. Many so-called “failures” are just steps along the journey.

But what about when we really screw up?

Here’s my first big leadership memory on the subject. It was over a decade ago a pivotal moment in my leadership development. It happened in my pajamas.

I hadn’t slept all night. I was completely stressed because I had to terminate several employees that morning for integrity violations. I fully agreed with the decision, but that did not make it much easier. I ran approaches to the meeting in my mind all night long nothing I could think to say seemed right.

Then, my husband poured me a cup of coffee and said, “look, if I was going to be fired, I would want to be fired by you.”

That was it.

I completely changed my approach. I threw away my imaginary script and just showed up.

I met with each person. I listened with my heart, and then I fired them. But then, we talked deeply about what they had learned dreams, hopes, talents, skills and next steps. I don’t know what those guys are up to now. But I do know that at the end of each meeting, I heard the same reaction, a real “Thank you.”

Since then, I have had the privilege to support many small and big fails (and consequently many small and big wins).

Stuff that can help:

  • Stay calm
  • Be calming
  • Ask a lot of provoking questions
  • Ask some more questions (look for patterns)
  • Ignite confidence
  • Listen for a clear recovery plan
  • Establish a time to check-in

Self-Directed Meets Connected: Gentle When Needed

Leadership challenges us to anticipate what is happening in the hearts and minds of our people. This is particularly difficult when working with strong, self-directed human beings. Strong performers are self-critical by nature and when the going gets tough, the tough get going usually starting with beating up on themselves. Leaders can help by staying connected, and offering compassion.

I experienced this first hand, when I was the one struggling. I was the leader of a large retail sales team, and it was one of those big days with high expectations. I had started at 4am and was driving from store to store to rally and inspire the team. Each hour, the sales totals would flash on my phone via text message. They were disappointing. I felt more stressed with each incoming tone. And then the phone rang. It was my boss. “Oh great,” I thought. “He is freaking out too.”

“Where are you?” He said.

“I’ve been to 8 stores, headed South for more. Everyone is working really hard ” I wanted him to know I was “on it.”

“Please pull over now,” he said firmly.

And then continued, “Stop it.”

“Stop what?” Not the response I had expected.

“Look in the mirror. See that look on your face? Stop beating yourself up. I know that you planned well, the team is prepared, everyone is fully customer-focused, and you are executing on all cylinders, Aren’t you?”

Uhhh, “yes,” I said, still surprised by his reaction.

“The only mistake I see happening is the one you are about to make when you go into that next store. No matter what you say to the team, they are going to see that look of disappointment on your face. It is going to crush them because they care about pleasing you.

Powerful coaching. He was absolutely right He knew me. He knew my team That is exactly what was about to happen.

That was the best coaching he ever gave me.

I experienced this from the other side of the coaching fence as well. I was talking to a seasoned member of my HR team. She was really upset at how a project had turned. Then she sighed, “and on top of that I am being yelled at.”

I was startled. I had been making every effort to stay calm and offer support (even though I was really frustrated).

“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you, I know this was an honest oversight.”

“Oh, it’s not YOU who is yelling at me, it’s ME yelling at ME, and that’s far worse.”

Indeed.

Sometimes the best we can give our teams is empathetic connection.


Felons, Leopards, Spots and Feedback: A Short Story of Missed Opportunity

Last night I accidentally had dinner with an old college friend. It was one of those fun chance meetings which quickly leads to a run down of every mutual acquaintance and what they are up to. He shared a story that got me thinking about feedback, and my responsibility to give it.

The Story of Missed Feedback

He began, ” and Joe (not his real name) is a convicted felon.”

“What! Story, please.”

Joe is a bright, talented guy who quickly became a successful businessman. My interpretation of the story is that his white-collar crime was not an oversight or an accident, but a substantial breach of integrity motivated by greed and vengeance.

I looked at my friend, “I am embarrassed and sad to say, that I’m not shocked.”

So why wasn’t I startled by this news? In my interactions with Joe there were times when things just didn’t feel right in the way he treated his relationships or stories that just didn’t stick together. At this point, the details are fuzzy, but I do remember thinking, “I should give him some feedback.”

I never did.

Why hadn’t I?

Was I afraid? Worried it “wasn’t my place?” Worried I would lose the friendship?

What if I had?

What if others had in the 20 years between then and now?

What if friends and colleagues had called this leopard’s’ spots as they saw them emerge-when the stakes were low. What if he had more ticked off people calling his bluff along the way? Would he have failed sooner and softer? Or, perhaps they did. I will never know.

What is our responsibility to give feedback and hold up mirrors for our friends early in the game?