how do I recognize my employees? Recognition that works

Recognition Power Words: The Phrases that Mean the Most

Think of the best recognition you’ve received.
Who said what, and why was it meaningful?

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.

Here are a few of my favorite recognition power phrases.

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

Of course, recognition can also backfire. See Candy isn’t Love and Pizza Isn’t Leadership.

Your turn. What would you add? What recognition power words make the biggest impact for you?

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Communication and tagged , , , , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. The way you deliver the message to the person being praised is subjective based on the recipients behavioral style.

    Various ways to praise:

    – Some love the limelight and want the praise to be very public.
    – Others prefer a low level interaction behind closed doors.
    – A gift is preferred vs. words.
    – Provide them with extra time with their family. “Go home early.”
    – Give them a bigger project to work on. Words of praise don’t move them as much as greater responsibility.

    Those are a few.

    Bottom line. Understand each person’s behavioral style and manage according to how they want to be treated. A behavioral assessment can help.

    • Thanks, Steve, fore adding in some of these non-verbal ways to the discussion. So true. We actually have a tool we offer for team leaders to use when getting to know a new team member that has a series of questions.. and it includes “how I like to be recognized.” That can be useful too. However, it can backfire if the team leader ignores it.

    • Many people will shy away from this question or says what’s politically correct. A behavioral assessment provides a neutral report of their styles. Hope this helps.

      There are many tools people ignore. They think they can figure it out for themselves. Ego.

  2. The one you started with “I’m proud of you” should be in that final list as well. It’s the one I still see can light up my pre-teens eyes (even when he doesn’t want me to know it). I probably don’t use it enough.
    Thanks for the post.

  3. Appreciation and acknowledgement is always welcomed by individuuals. We are all hungry for the same. If you appreciate someone, the same will come back to you in some form or the other. I loved reading all the comments and remarks made by people from all over the globe. Thank you sharing a wonderful yet practical piece of advice.

  4. I am new to your site. I absolutely love this site as I have just implemented a Leadership Development Program at our facility and was looking for positive words to give our team leaders. I have embarked upon a wealth of information! This will also help me in my own professional business as well. I am looking forward to reading and learning more!

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