In Defense of Wow: It’s Okay to Be Impressed

Leaders who are afraid to acknowledge success lack confidence in their vision. Being impressed doesn’t incent laziness. Leaders gloss over great, looking for greater. They could have said, wow!

  • “This idea is amazing! But, I’d better not act impressed, or they won’t strive for more.”
  • “Sure the sales of this strategic product are great, BUT they are falling short in other areas.”
  • “Their year-over-year results are unprecedented, but there’s another team ahead. I’d better focus them on chasing that rabbit.”

Leaders think, “if I act impressed employees will stop trying.”

Worthy of “Wow”

When was the last time you let out a heartfelt “Wow!”? Not at a sunset. Or at a baby’s first steps. Or after a bite of chocolate cheesecake, all of which are certainly “wow” worthy. But when did you last “wow” at work?

“Wow has a reverberation – wowowowowow – and this pulse can soften us, like the electrical massage an acupuncturist directs to your spine or cramped muscle, which feels like a staple gun, but good.”
― Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers

Your team is accomplishing small miracles. Someone just trumped their personal best. Or, they worked all night to meet the deadline. Or, finally, the team is helping each other with no hidden agendas.

Look them right in the eye, pause and exclaim “Wow!”
Resist the urge to “wow but” them..

In a post submitted for tomorrow’s LGL Frontine Festival, Tanveer Naseer, explains “feedback should make you hungry to achieve more.”

“I advised the students to savour this moment and to remember that it was thanks to their hard work, their persistence to overcome the obstacles in their path, and their drive to succeed that they were able to achieve this rare accomplishment. I followed this with a word of encouragement that they wake up the next morning with a renewed sense of hunger to once again push themselves to excel and move forward; to meet the new challenges they’ll face with the same drive and persistence that got them here.”

A good “wow” incents achievement. “Wowed” feels fantastic. It influences how you “wake up.”

Everyone needs feedback and tips to improve. Coach, respond, inspire. And every now and then, stop at “wow.”


My team holds regular, “wow-a-thons.” If I promise not to be too disruptive, they let me play along. A cross-functional group of leaders spends the entire day listening to customer interactions. If they hear a rep delighting a customer, they note what they heard and what makes it fantastic. They parade onto the floor to celebrate the fantastic “wow.” No coaching. No buts just celebration, with specifics. “When you said______” it really changed the customer experience. Wow. Thank you.”

If something was mildly wrong, they still celebrate, but make a note and find another example to address the concern. later. Wow doesn’t have to be perfect. The celebrating goes all day. Employees are uplifted. Team leaders practice watching for the good. It’s a party. Results sky rocket. No apathy is encouraged in these “wows.”

Tips for a Good “Wow”

  • Pick something amazing
  • Mean it.
  • Explain why
  • Be specific
  • Say it loud so others can hear
  • Vary the recipients (don’t always chose John)
  • ?
Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Such a fun post.

    We have a staff meeting on Friday during summer camp. After we talk about, “issues” or concerns we close with The Magic Projector.

    Anyone can take the magic clicker (normally a stick) they point it to an imaginary screen, say “click” and then describe the slide so everyone can see it. The slides are all pictures and displays of WOW moments from our week.

  2. I’ve managed several globally dispersed teams of people I never met hand to hand. I found that the more I acknowledged ‘wow’ performance, the more they came to accept it as the normal state.

    I think ‘positivity’ or ‘wow’ is universal and crosses cultures, borders and philosophies.

    If there were no ‘wows’ to be had it really stood out, and I didn’t hand out wows for no reason, and because we all really liked the wow state, two things generally happened.

    1) It caused me to look for new ways to maintain an environment in which they could achieve wow.

    2) They too looked for ways to achieve more wow or we’d work together on it.

    As far as being afraid of acknowledging their wow,,, I’d hope my team would call me out on that.

    I like wow as a verb.

  3. Hi Karin. Love the post. Later in my career I made it a weekly goal of mine to celebrate “wow” with not only my inner team of senior leaders but with most employees at the office. As I had more contact with the senior team it was easier so what I intentionally did was eat lunch with the other staff members and through casual conversation and sharing did it then. These conversations were affirming and informative. Now that I am retired I try to do it at home with my family. Thanks!


  4. Karin,

    This is a great article. Having a positive mindset and being able to get that same energy going is impactful.

  5. Karin,
    Wow !!!
    Wonderful post. I love the point you make about the teams accomplishing small miracles, i believe this is where the magic begins. Excitement is infectious and sharing appreciation in a genuine manner will only lead to more positive results. Cheers !

  6. Terrific post, Karin! I love the idea of “wowathons” and can see their benefit in the workplace, as parents, and beyond. I’ve found that sharing a “Wow!” with someone who may not receive them very often (i.e., a checkout clerk) brightens up both of our days, and hopefully energizes people to create even more “wow” moments. Thanks for the uplifting reminder!

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