how to be great at recognition

How to Be Great at Recognition (Even if It’s Not in Your DNA)

We had just finished talking about ways to be great at recognition as part of a Winning Well leadership development program with a fast-growing company.  One of the senior leaders, “Joe” who happened to be sitting in on the session so he could reinforce the learning, took me aside:

“Karin, I’m missing that gene.”

“Which gene?” I asked.

“That ‘be great at recognition’ gene,” he sighed.

I’m listening to what my people are saying here today, and clearly they aren’t getting enough recognition from me. But, I’ll be honest. It just doesn’t come naturally for me. I guess I’m just old school. I mean, when I was growing up in this business, no one talked about recogntion. You just did your job the very best you could. Making a great product, growing the business, and delighting clients was its own reward. I’d like to get better, but it’s hard.

4 Ways to Be Better at Recognition (Even if It’s Not in Your DNA)

If you’ve ever felt like Joe, you’re in good company. We hear this from senior leaders we work with quite frequently. Here’s what we’ve seen work best to compensate for that “missing gene.”

1. Change Your Frame: Learn the Science Beneath the ROI

Well done recognition does far more than make employees feel good and increase your employee engagement survey results. Because it draws an employee’s attention to their strengths and to what’s working, positive feedback actually helps them build new neural pathways that lead to higher functioning in that area.

According to brain science, people grow far more neurons and synaptic connections where they already have the most neurons and synaptic connections. In other words, each brain grows most where it’s already strongest. As Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience at New York University memorably described it, “Added connetions are therefore more like new little buds on a branch rather than new branches.” Through this lens learning looks a lot like building, little by little by little on the unique patterns that are already within you. Which means learning has to start by finding and understanding those patterns.” – Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, The Feedback Fallacy, Harvard Business Review 2019

When you can reframe recognition as a way to help your team get smarter, faster re-cognition, it’s easier to see the ROI and the effort may feel more vital.

2. Schedule Small Chunks of Time For Informal Recognition

Karin, did you just suggest I formalize informal recognition? Well, yes. I did.

If it doesn’t come naturally to you, your best bet to be great at recognition is to turn it into a task. For example, if you schedule a task on Thursday that you’re going to pick up the phone or walk into people’s offices and thank them for something specific, meaningful and timely, and you KNOW that task is coming up. You’re going to be more likely on the lookout for examples to complete that task.

3.  Measure It

Giving yourself a micro-goal can make all the difference. One way to do this is to put three pennies in your pocket. As you walk around during the day, every time you notice (and recognize) something positive that you want more of, you move the penny to the other pocket. At the end of the day is to have all the pennies moved over to the opposite pocket.

After you build the habit, what was once felt unnatural should come more naturally.

4. Ask Others to help

It’s likely that someone on your team carries this gene, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Designate someone to help you think of ways to do creative recognition.

Or even more simply, ask your direct reports to let you know when they see something great going on, or to nominate a peer. This doesn’t have to be a big formal process or program. It can be as simple as saying, “I’d like to learn more about the great work and collaboration that is happening around here. I’d like each of you to drop me an email each week letting me know about one great thing that you’ve experienced.”

Then you have a nice list to choose from to reach out and say a quick “thank you” to the person they mentioned. Side benefit—your inbox will be filled with good news. Why wouldn’t you want more of that? 😉

Your turn.

What advice would you add for someone missing the “How to Be Great at Recognition” Gene?

See Also 8 Reasons Recognition Programs Fail (CEO Magazine)

Prefer a video version of this “How to Be Great at Recognition” topic? Check out my Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn.

Recognition and Appreciation: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival!  This month, our contributors share posts about recognition and appreciation. 

Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

The December Frontline Festival will be your Best of 2019. Do you have a best practice to share? Have you written a blog post, recorded a podcast or video that received a lot of traction? We would love to have you join us. Send us your submissions here!

Now, on to recognition and appreciation. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or links to your favorite articles. What would you add?


Appreciate the Value of Recognition

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting gives us Two Mistakes that Will Kill Your Employee Recognition Program.  How can it be that even among organizations that are making the effort and have good intentions, less than half of their employees are satisfied? These two mistakes can kill even the best-intentioned recognition efforts. Follow Nate.

Chip BellChip Bell of Chip Bell Group gives us If Herzberg Ran Affinity Programs. We think we know about how to recognize and affirm great service performance until we look at it through the eyes of a motivation research pioneer and expert, Fredrick Herzberg. Follow Chip.


Julie Winkle GiulioniJulie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds gives us Employee Recognition – The KISS Method. Recognition just might be the most leverageable practice leaders can engage in to drive individual and organizational results. It doesn’t have to cost anything except a little honest attention to those around you. This month, you can read the post or watch the microlearning video on the topic produced by my friends at AthenaOnline. (link expires 12-1-19) Follow Julie.

Robyn McLeodRobyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog presents Why Your Cookie-Cutter Approach to Recognition is Not Working where she shares that as a leader and manager, it is your job to know what each of your team members needs to feel valued and acknowledged. Finding out what motivates them and fuels their energy for the work can only happen if you ask. Follow Robyn.

John HunterJohn Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement provides Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work. Managers should recognize the strengths each person brings and appreciate how to take advantage of those strengths. That also is a way to show people you care about them and have taken an interest in them. Doing this greatly improves the appreciation people have for their job – being able to do what you do well is rewarding.  Follow John.

Jesse Lynn StonerJesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership shares Why Nobody Noticed You Changed and Five Things You Can Do to Make Change Stick. Are you not getting the recognition and appreciation you deserve? Perhaps you’ve changed and nobody acknowledges it? Here’s what you can do about it. Follow Jesse.


Recognize the Value of Appreciation

S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture gives us a Culture Leadership Charge Video: The Leader’s Most Powerful Tool. The leader’s most powerful tool boils down to two compelling words: “Thank you.”  The research found that people that practice gratitude enjoy significant physical, psychological, and social benefits. Which one of your team members can you thank today? Follow Chris.

Maria Tanski of Patriot Software provides 8 Out-of-the-Box Ideas for Employee Recognition and Appreciation. If you want to retain top-notch talent, you need to show employees that you appreciate their hard work. These unique recognition and appreciation ideas will give you a fun way to show employees that you care.  Follow Maria.

Shelley RowShelley Row of Shelley Row Associates provides Five Ways to Reward Employees – It’s Not about the Money.  There is strong research that supports the notion that we have a “common neural currency” for rewards. Here are five ways you can harness the reward network in the brain for good feelings and even better performance.  Follow Shelley.


Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership gives us The Most Potent Reward.  Praise is your power tool. It’s the way you encourage people to try something new or to keep doing something good. Here are four rules for using this powerful reward. Follow Wally.


David GrossmanDavid Grossman of The Grossman Group shared Let’s Demonstrate We Value Our People, and Pay Them Appropriately. In this open letter to the public relations industry I care deeply about, I lay out my concerns (and potential solutions) when it comes to developing and appreciating our qualified employees in PR and communications related industries. My worry is that there’s an unintentional system in place that prevents our best employees in communications from both knowing and showing their value. We can and need to do better. Follow David.

Sean Glaze

Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding asks How Do You Create Buy-In and Get People to Go All-In on Any Team? This question is one of the great challenges of teammates who care or team leaders who are struggling to inspire commitment.  Follow Sean.


BEST OF 2019

Won’t you join us for our BEST OF 2019? Share your best writing, videos, or podcasts from the year. New contributors welcome! Submit your “best of” here!

the power of gratitude and appreciation

Gratitude and Appreciation: A November Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is about gratitude and appreciation. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about your best of 2017.  Submit your best blog post of the year here!


Skip Prichard of Leadership Insights  shares three steps to boost your thanksgiving quotient and 17 different benefits for a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the best ways to increase your success in the coming year. Follow Skip.

Tanveer Naseer of Tanveer Naseer Leadership gives us a look at how expressing gratitude can help leaders bring out the best in those they lead and drive their organizations to succeed. Follow Tanveer.


“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement is thankful for the insight provided by his father on how to provide value through your work.  He says, “It seems to me we often neglect to appreciate how important it is for people to take pride in their work.  He gave me an early appreciation that while there are many factors influencing our decisions as we proceed through our careers, it is critical to do work that you are proud of.” Follow John.

Rachel Blakely of Patriot Software reminds us that during the holiday season and beyond, it’s important to step back and think about what you’re grateful for in your business. This year, let your customers know you’re thankful for them with these five tipsFollow Rachel.

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates recounts when a plane full of passengers erupted in appreciative applause.  Follow Shelley

Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen mentions thanks for the teachers in our lives, including people who “taught” us outside the classroom. They appreciate hearing our expressions of gratitude, even if quite a bit of time has elapsed. This is a note she wrote to a teacher decades after a meaningful incident. Follow Paula.

Chery Gegelman of Simply Understanding shares five reasons thankfulness is more than child’s playFollow Chery.


“This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” Maya Angelou

According to Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding, a constant focus on what is missing, what needs to get better, where the flaws are, can turn aspirations into frustrations. As a coach,  manager, principal, or leader in any arena, rather than seeing the hole, we should step back more often to appreciate the doughnut. We should find things to be grateful for. In just five minutes over seven days, you can completely change your focus and impact. Follow Sean.

According to Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership, Gratitude is good for you, but an “attitude of gratitude is not enough. You get maximum benefits if you spread it around.  Follow Wally.

In the post, Making Thanksgiving a Leadership Skill, Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog shares that we can reap greater benefits by making “giving thanks” a year-round leadership practice.  Follow Robyn.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader shares that we can appreciate leadership in many forms, but true leadership of positive influence on others is what it’s really all about. Follow Paul

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

David Grossman of The Grossman Group shares his Thanksgiving tradition: Grandma Elsie’s Chiffon Pie– and celebrates her generous spirit every holiday season. Follow David.

Chip Bell of Chip Bell Group is grateful for PASSION!! Without it, life would become plain vanilla, greatness would become mediocrity, and commitment would become complacency. In the words of English novelist E.M. Forster, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.” Follow Chip.

According to Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC,  gratitude is a state of mind when you allow it to be. Gratitude is not a natural state. Consider two toddlers in the same room with a fistful of goodies. Often, they will want what the other one has too! This description derives from a selfish desire for survival that is hard-wired into us. We must make a choice for a different state of mind.  Follow Michelle.

The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” William James

Ken Downer of Rapid Start Leadership shares: An attitude of gratitude can provide lots of benefits, like increased happiness, improved health, and even a better night’s sleep. Here are eight things you can do today to make life better, both for you, and those around you, by focusing on what you have, instead of what you don’t. Follow Ken

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited suggests that a good mindset about giving/receiving revolves around forgetting what you give and remembering what you receive.  Follow Beth.


Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership reminds us that the holiday season can be difficult for many people, but it’s still possible to feel joy and gratitude in stressful times… which is good for your physical and mental health. She gives us three steps to access gratitude when you’re feeling stressed. Follow Jesse.

Eileen McDargh of The Energizer asks, “Do you ever have a moment when the world feels upside down and you are stressed or sick?” Eileen shares how the little things in life can give us pleasure even when we’re under the weather!  Follow Eileen.

Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture reminds us that while civility and respect is not demonstrated daily in many of our homes, neighborhoods, or workplaces, now is the time to begin being thankful and kind in every interaction. The choice is ours.  Follow Chris.

How about you? What are you most thankful for? How do you keep a grateful approach?

Scott Friedman

4 Ways to Bring More Celebration to Your Organization (Scott Friedman)

Winning Well Connection

Scott has a special place in our hearts as he’s been an incredible encourager and friend both personally and professionally–and was actually on our first date (unbeknownst to him at the time). Scott is the founder of Together We Can Change the World with whom we’re on tour with during our second half of the Asia trip. TWCCTW is also our partner for our Winning Wells initiative bringing clean water wells to Cambodia.

When doing research for Celebrate! Lessons Learned from the World’s Most Admired Organizations, we asked our survey respondents: “What is essential in making celebration work in any organization?” The top for answers were: inclusivity, gratitude, play, and surprise.

Inclusivity – Making sure that everyone feels a part of the team. Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging … it’s giving everyone a voice and the feeling that their voice matters.

Gratitude – A grateful feeling, emotion, or attitude of acknowledgment of the life we have and those that we share our life with. It’s the ability to count our blessings even when we’re feeling the pressure of daily responsibilities. It’s being thankful and showing appreciation for those that make a difference in our lives.

Play – Living in the present moment. It’s the ability to let go of anger, resentment, and emotions from the past and truly bring our best self to the task at hand. Being in this state of flow will allow humor, spontaneity, fun, and play to flourish in the present moment. How much fun is that?

Surprise – Honoring people through the element of the unexpected – surprising them with what is highest on their joy list. It’s catching people doing the right things and recognizing them on the spot. The reason celebration fails in most organizations today is that it becomes stale. There is a lack of creativity or conscious thought that is needed to make a celebration special. By learning more about what motivates employees and what brings them great joy, we can creatively add the element of surprise to their lives, and what a nice surprise that is!

Winning Well Reflection

In Winning Well we encourage recognition and celebration – after all, you get more of what you encourage and celebrate. But what really stands out about Scott’s approach to celebration is that it is more than an isolated response to something that’s happened. For Scott, celebration is a way of life. All of us can do with more appreciation of the good in our lives, our teams, and our work. You can follow up and incorporate more celebration into your life and work because Scott is graciously providing two free e-books to our readers.

Click on the images to download the books. Thank you Scott!




One Reason Your Employees are Rolling Their Eyes

Have you ever had a supervisor who congratulated you for doing something that you knew wasn’t praiseworthy, or worse, something you knew actually made things worse in the long run? Or have you seen a peer recognized for their “great work” only to find yourself secretly muttering “If they only knew?”

I see this happen all the time. Managers encourage the wrong behavior, for the wrong reasons…setting off a ripple effect of well-meaning frustration. “Seriously!? He got the award, after we saved his butt for that dumb mistake?” “If you loved what I did, do you realize I had to break three stupid polices to get there? The next time I do this when your boss doesn’t have a customer breathing down their neck, I’m likely to get written up for non-compliance.”

If you want people to pick up the love you’re putting down, be sure you’re rewarding the MIT (Most Important Thing).

3 Characteristics of Encouraging Encouragement

Truly encouraging encouragement is:


The first key to real encouragement is have a real understanding of which behaviors are driving your long-term results. For example, what behaviors lead to long-term customer retention? What leadership behaviors build employee loyalty and engagement?  Sure it’s simpler to focus only on short-term outcomes. But recognizing and rewarding short-term results will encourage win-at-all costs tactics that create long-term havoc. Your encouragement sends an important message to the employee you’re encouraging and everyone around them. Be sure you’re celebrating what matters most.


You’ve taken the time to identify your team’s relevant behaviors– your Winning Well MIT (Most Important Thing).  Be sure you’re linking your recognition back to behaviors not just outcomes. Describe what actually happened and why it is important.

Ineffective: “Hey, Bob, Great work.”

Effective: “Hey, Bob, I really appreciate the extra hours you put in on that project last week to take a deep dive into the customer’s account and uncover the root cause of the issue. The customer was delighted and renewed with us for another three years.”

If you can’t describe the actual behaviors, you’re not ready to offer encouragement because you don’t know what people did and they won’t know how to do it again. When you take the time to get specific, people know you understand their work, and you reinforce positive contributions.


Effective leaders know that people are different. They want encouragement in different areas, and they receive encouragement in different ways. Some people hate the spotlight, and would rather not be recognized at all than to be called on the stage and be given a plaque. Others will be annoyed if you didn’t take time to understand WHY their breakthrough formula worked on that spreadsheet. Be sure you’re providing encouragement in a way that will be most impactful to your employees. Recognition can backfire when people don’t feel “got.”  To make recognition more meaningful: customize it, personalize it, make it timely, encourage strengths, align it, and involve the team (for more detail and specific ideas see Winning Well chapter 20).

Show Me the Love: Recognition that Makes a Difference (with video)

Yesterday a high-potential, high-performing VP called:

Karin, the thing is, I know I’ve been accomplishing a lot. And I shouldn’t need this. But, I just wish one of the big guys would just say “thank you.” HR and my peers have told me “Oh, if you haven’t heard anything, you can be sure you’re doing just fine. if you’re screwing up, that will be perfectly clear. No news is good news. But. The truth is, I’m so hungry for a simple “thank you,” or a nod that I’m on the right track. Is that bad?

Of course not, I replied. “It means you’re human.”

Yes, even the guys getting paid “the big bucks” need to hear that they matter and are making a difference.

If they are, and you’re in a position to tell them– please do. And if they’re not, please tell them why. Silence does nothing to advance the game.

And for everyone else. If an exec being given increased responsibility and a healthy paycheck feels this way, imagine what the lack of meaningful feedback and recognition feels like at the front line.

When it comes to showing appreciation, it’s hard to over do recognition–  if it’s done well and is spoken from the heart.

And so this Valentine’s Day we bring you…

The Importance of Applauding Yourself

Confident, humble leaders take a moment to privately applaud themselves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a mini-timeout to tell yourself “Wow! Great job,” particularly for the incremental baby steps that change the game. Privately applauding yourself is vital if others aren’t looking at or caring about your greater mission.

One of the great joys of my new journey is that I get to meet so many kindred spirits from all over the world. I’m honing my “confident-humility” radar-detection system. I’m pleased to introduce Roberto Martinez from Bogota, Columbia to you through his guest post and short video interview.

I met Roberto after a speech I gave at the National Speaker Association’s Business Accelerator Lab.  He’s a doctor, a musician, a teacher, a speaker, a husband and father doing important work. You have to pull all of that out of him, though, because mostly he’s a humble man working to inspire good where it needs to happen most.

I was inspired by his thinking on taking time to “applaud yourself.” (Watch the video to hear more.)

See my interview with Roberto here. 

Roberto Martinez’s Thinking on Applauding Yourself

Some time ago a friend of mine asked me how to stay true to your journey toward fulfilling your dreams.  After all, it’s hard. There are competing pressures. Here’s my best thinking for the LGL community.

  1. Link to Passion:  Be sure that what you’re doing is connected to your passion and to your greatest purpose in life. It is not about “the what”… it is about the “why” and “the what for.”
  2. Don’t Think Small: The key is to verify that you are not doing what you want for a small reason. As I told my friend, make sure you are walking up that road not only to pay the rent, or to be able to go to the movies after you paid the bills of the month, but to create something really great. Something that counts for many and helps many people around you,while you are in the process. Your true passion is that thing that will get you out of your bed every morning full of energy and with a big smile in your face!
  3. Bring Optimism:  You have to mix that passion and intention with optimism, so you can ignite persistence. Remember that real optimism is not about being always happy, or never finding a bump in the road. It is about having confidence that sooner or later you will reach all your goals, even if you don’t necessarily know at present how you will accomplish them. If you persist in the intention and do the homework, you will find the way and you will meet the right people to overcome the barriers.
  4. Applaud Yourself: Celebrate the small victories that you have along the way. Usually people throw big parties, receptions and celebrations when they accomplish great steps, but you know what? You do not have to celebrate these great victories! Other people will celebrate them for you.  The ones that you have to celebrate are precisely the small ones. Those that nobody know about but you. Those victories that in the bottom of your heart you truly know they were very hard to gain, but you did it. Those victories will give you the confidence and the strength to continue when everything seems uphill.
  5. Be Aware of Your Legacy:  Make sure you are going accompanied in the road. Whose life is easier down the road as a result of your efforts? This is certainly one of the steps that creates the greatest commitment to your vision because is no longer just about you– it is about them.
  6. Enjoy the Journey: At the end of the day, it is not so much about the goal itself… it is about the type of person that you will become as you pursue the goal.

The synergy of these six steps will inspire you, and others, to support your vision.

I would love to hear your insights and thoughts. Feel free to reach out.

Visit Roberto’s site or find him on Facebook, or Twitter @rm_leadinglife

The Simplest Way to Hear Your Team's Best Stories

The Simplest Way To Hear The Best Stories

Every day your team is doing great work. Sometimes you miss their stories. Some folks will go home and tell their stories around the dinner table. Others can’t, or simply won’t. Don’t let stories go unheard, or untold. Find ways for them to share impactful adventures.

Listening For the Stories:  Listening Made Easy

I lead a remote team, scattered across 3 time zones in 25 locations. It’s impossible for me to scratch the surface of all the good work going on. Once a month we carve out time to share stories.

Each of my directors nominates one or two team members who’ve been up to something great, along with a few notes, focusing on the behaviors that are leading to success. Those nominees then are invited to a “kudos with Karin” call. Just a dozen or so storytellers and me (we skip all the layers in between). No prep required.

I set the stage, and go down the list. I share the highlights of their story as I understand it; what they’ve contributed, and the positive behaviors that led to success. Then I turn the table, and ask the honoree to share “their side of the story.” What they’re most proud of. Why it worked. Best practices they would highlight.

Almost always, their story includes why it’s an OUR story, a group effort, and more names are thrown into the mix for follow-up. The storytelling blossoms with interactive energy. Their story becomes a FUTURE story of possibilities. Folks call one another off-line to learn more. We learn through collaboration.

I then ask, is there anything else exciting happening personally or professionally you would like to share with the group? More stories emerge: going back to school, babies, graduations, substantial weight loss. The energy lights up a notch and this remote group feels even more connected.

The Difference

Traditional recognition is vital. But it usually goes one way. We receive the nomination, share highlights, present the plaque, applaud and move on.

Try turning tables and be a story listener.

Respond. Cull out themes and common behaviors. Let the recognition emerge naturally from the storytelling. No fuss. No plaques. Just a great feeling on a Friday afternoon. And another story for them to share around the dinner table.

Related Posts:

Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

Town Hall Meetings: 6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Leadership Message

What I appreciate most about your leadership

What I Appreciate Most About Your Leadership

What do you appreciate most about each member of your team? Have you told them? Try this simple, free and powerful best practice to encourage and recognize your team.

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore.

A Quick “I Appreciate You” Best Practice

The other night I was talking to Joe, a leader who shared this fantastic best practice.

Every time Joe has someone new join his team, he takes the time to write down “why I hired you,” frames it, and gives it to the new team member.

Every new employee comes to work knowing what Joe appreciates most.

Wow! a powerful way to show appreciation and boost confidence. Who wouldn’t want that sitting on their desk on a bad day? Heck, it can’t hurt on a good day either.

I was sharing this idea with a leader on my team, and lamented, “I sure wish I had done that for you guys.”

She looked right at me and said. “It’s not too late.”

Her thirsty look made me realize I had work to do.

So this Sunday morning, I worked to identify the 3 areas I most appreciate about each member of my direct report team. I didn’t overthink it. The whole exercise took less than an hour. No fancy frames, just a weekend email to start their week.

Why It Was Hard

Just as I started to write, my internal struggle began as I thought about all the “What ifs?”

What if they were disappointed about the characteristics I most appreciated? I would have to be clear, this was merely my view on how their leadership was showing up– a subjective, single perspective.

What if the leader who was also struggling in some areas took this as a sign that he was off the hook for the behaviors we had been working to improve? I decided it was okay. I was working on those consistently and would do that again another day. This focus on appreciation only might be exactly what he needed.

What if they compared notes? I realized that would be FANTASTIC.

It would be great to have them talking about what they appreciated most in one another.

I also made a deliberate decision to focus on leadership behaviors without the context of accomplishments or results. For this exercise, I did not want to appreciate them for the amazing year over year growth. This time, it was all about how– not what.

What I Appreciate Most

The exercise became a meditation.

I felt deep appreciation and connection bubbling up. I became overwhelmed by how much I appreciated them as a collective team. It was not lost on me that what I chose to appreciate said as much about me as it did them.

I found that I appreciated the characteristics that were hardest for me, and also those I value most deeply. A few excerpts from these notes…

I appreciate your:

  • high-energy, always-fascinated approach to everything you do. You love life and it shows.
  • relentless efforts to build genuine teams (down, up, and sideways). You live your motto, “no one wins unless we’re all winning”
  • strategic approach to what’s most important. You’re not easily distracted by “noise.”
  • deep desire to grow, eagerness to learn, and willingness to try
  • highly developed ability to listen, listen some more, and then speak with wisdom
  • strategic, scenario-based thinking. I love that before I can finish a sentence, you have a calculator doing the math
  • deep spirituality and commitment to your family. It shows in your day job.

Winning Well

Your turn.

What are your best practices for letting each team member know how you appreciate them?

Other Resources

For more Winning Well tools and techniques, check out our book. Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results–Without Losing Your Soul. You can download a FREE book group facilitator’s  guide here.

Check out some of our other Most Read and Shared Posts

How to Give Better, Consistent Appreciation (Another appreciation best practice from my time as a Verizon executive)

7 Ways to Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity

9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems on Their Own

when recognitoin backfires

The Dumpster Effect: When Your Recognition Program Backfires

Why do some recognition programs backfire?

How a Recognition Program Can Do More Harm Than Good

We had pulled into the parking lot for a wedding. We were staying on premium points (read that, free) for which I’m grateful, so I won’t disclose the hotel brand.

Parking was tight so we turned the corner. Right beside the dumpsters were several tables set up for a “recognition” luncheon for hotel staff. Full on signage included thanking them for their commitment to customers.

I was floored. I thought,

“Let me get this right…you’re events superstars. You work to make every bride’s and corporate meeting planner’s dream come true. Have you EVER suggested an event by the dumpster? Surely someday this week you have empty banquet rooms. What in the world would encourage you to lay out white tablecloths in the context of trash? What other options did you explore? Do you seriously expect the folks you’re recognizing to come back in and create magical, creative moments for your guests?”
Think twice.

Every ounce of recognition is inspired by good intentions.

Slow down. There’s a reason Santa checks twice.

Become Leader Of The Year

Remember how energized you were that time you received meaningful recognition? Perhaps it was something equivalent to the leader of the year award, in front of a big crowd. Hands were shaken and pictures taken. Or it might have been less formal, but deeply touched your heart. “Wow, they really get what I’ve contributed here.” Formal recognition feels fantastic (I know, informal is equally important, but that’s a different post.)

And then there’s the rest of the time. You do great work and no one seems to notice. Or, someone else gets the award, and you’re scratching your head. You suck it up, smile, and congratulate, but inside you’re hurt, maybe even a little bit mad. I’m not proud to say, I’ve been there, felt that.


Tonight I’m hosting a big recognition dinner, complete with microphones, music, plaques and hoopla. A few well deserving leaders will feel fantastic. My team and I have debated the nominations, crunched numbers, discussed behaviors. We feel great about our choices. And yet, before I announce winners, I know I’ll get a familiar sick feeling, worried about the rest of the deserving leaders who will leave empty-handed.

Recognition has a sharp double edge.

Become Your Leader of the Year

Sure external validation feels great. But, real leadership energy comes from leading authentically toward your meaningful vision. Real leaders know when they are leading well. They don’t need someone else to tell them they’re leader of the year.

What do you long to be recognized for?

Take a few minutes this week and design the award you would want most to receive.

  • Name it.
  • Define the criteria.
  • Identify the specific outcomes you most long to celebrate.
  • Define the leadership behaviors you would want to model

Articulate what matters most. Perhaps it’s creating lasting change, or progress toward a meaningful cause. Maybe it’s developing others to unprecedented success. Get specific. Write up the talk track you would hear as you walked up to receive the award.

How are you doing?

Be honest. Would YOU nominate YOU for that award today? What must change? Where can you improve?

Don’t wait for external validation. Envision your leadership at its very best. Now, lead toward that. Become your best leader of the year. Make this your best leadership year ever.

Real leadershipThis week we are talking about the many angles of leadership “energy,” the second branch in the REAL model. Tomorrow,will take a deeper look at leadership energy. If you’ve not yet joined the LGL community, enter your email address to subscribe and never miss a post.

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)
  • ?