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)
  • ?
how to host a kick-butt kickoff motivational meeting

5 Secrets to a Kick-Butt Kickoff (how to host a motivational meeting)

Are you looking to host a kickoff meeting to inspire and motivate your team? When’s the last time you got the whole crowd together to rally around the vision, celebrate progress and have a little fun?

What if you got this note in your email today (I did)?

“I was approached by one of my employees this morning. He wanted to share with me what the Kickoff meant to him. He stated that he was so inspired by the enthusiasm and the things he heard, that he wanted to work harder than he ever has before. He said that he woke up 3 times in the middle of the night, thinking about what he had learned. He kept thinking about what he had to do to make sure that he made it up on stage next year as a top performer. He came into work today with a great attitude and a desire to create a WOW experience with every person he spoke to today. I also observed him in the break room today encouraging another representatives from his team to do the same.”

And then a follow-up message from one of the leaders on my team:

“and, that’s why we do what we do.” My response was one word. “Amen.”

The secret is not a great venue, fancy AV, or a high-priced motivational speaker. I’ve seen successful kickoffs in parking lots and warehouses. It’s something else.

5 Secrets to a Motivational Kickoff Meeting

  1. Sincerity
    You can’t fake sincerity. It’s also impossible to have a once-a-year high-energy kickoff meeting if the rest of the time people are dragging themselves to work, or the leader is leading with fear and intimidation. Ensure that you bring your authentic self to the microphone (sure get out of your comfort zone at least a little), but the most motivating messages will come from your heart.
  2. Simplified Messaging
    Pick no more than 3 key messages you want to reinforce. Hit the points strong from several angles. Complicated Powerpoint slides will bore the crowd, make your slides pop with messages they will remember.
  3. Emotional Engagement
    Tell stories, have employees share what works, disclose a bit about what you wrestle with, find ways to share the microphone try “pulling out” the message rather than “imparting” your wisdom.
  4. Creative Involvement
    Okay, I’m a sucker for this stuff but only because it works. In the last month I have seen the entire fully costumed “cast” of “We Are The World” in a kickoff finale that reinforced every strategy, A VP dressed as a greaser sharing how to “rock” results, and more wigs and blinky lights than I can count. Creative “silly” reinforces meaningful messages. Get the team involved and see what they come up with there’s a singer-songwriter in every crowd.
  5. The Right Recognition
    Take the time to get this right. I can tell from the first drumroll whether the leadership has picked the right folks by the way the crowd responds. Don’t just look at numbers, consider other contributions as well. Who do you want the team to emulate?

Have you been part of a kick-butt kickoff meeting?

Why Isn't This Incentive Program Working?

Incentive programs continue to be one of the most debated topics in management. Sometimes incentive programs work well. Sometimes they do not. Leadership can make a difference.

Have you ever experienced any of these scenarios?

  • You’ve implemented a new incentive program and results go down?
  • You roll-out a new contest and no one seems to care?
  • You announce a lucrative SPIFF program with substantial financial upside, and very few participate?

The Incentive Debate

Incentive programs can do wonders for driving short-term results. In my post on Confidence Bursts, I talked about how small rewards can create focus and an extra push to try new behaviors.

And yet, most leaders also understand the age-old challenge reinforced by Dan Pink in his TED talk: The Puzzle of Motivation (that received 4.6M views).

Contingent motivators often don’t work or can actually do harm, particularly for creative tasks.

In his book, Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lesson’s From Brain Science, Charles Jacobs explains that when we do work that is inherently interesting our brain releases dopamine, giving us a drug-like high. Our brain needs engagement to get the happy chemicals. Money without engagement doesn’t have the same result.

What has been most interesting to me over the years is watching several work groups implement the exact incentive program to employees doing identical work with dramatically different results.  It’s not a matter of the incentive program being inherently flawed, but the context in which it is implemented.

Incentives are part of a larger change cocktail.

So, What’s a Leader To Do?

For many of you the question may not be, “Should we create an incentive program?,” but rather “How much of my leadership energy should I put behind this program I have available?” The opportunity is there to use incentives as a tool as part of your leadership. Is it worth it?

  • You see the benefit to your company.
  • You understand the potential impact on results.
  • You realize the financial opportunity for your team.
  • And yet, will it work?

In my experience incentives works best when the leader…

  • creates a clear link to the team’s vision and goals
  • helps the employees learn the necessary skills to succeed
  • talks about it constantly
  • gets silly with it
  • makes the program easy to understand
  • turns the program into a game or contest
  • helps team members visualize the math
  • creates friendly competition
  • tracks results in a visible way
  • ???

These programs almost always fail when the leader…

  • doesn’t believe it will work
  • “rolls it out” as a separate program
  • doesn’t teach the necessary skills
  • has too many other contests or incentives going on
  • finds it too complicated or too hard to administer
  • ???

Grateful Gone Missing? In Search of Gratitude

This month many folks I know are participating in the Facebook Daily Gratitude Challenge. They are posting “something for which they are truly grateful” each day.

My friend Lisa wrote, “I am grateful for gratitude.”

Ah, I thought, now that is something to consider.

What is grateful?

What does it mean to be truly grateful?

How does gratitude change us?

Why must leaders be grateful?

What are you most grateful for?

As leaders, we spend much time on “thanks for passing the gravy” kind of thanks.

  • …thanks for this report
  • …thanks for the update
  • …thanks for coming to work on time
  • …thanks for returning my call
  • …thanks for dinner

Those courtesies are important and necessary. But they are not gratitude.

Most organizations also do a pretty good job with formal recognition— taking time to determine who deserves the plaque and celebration. These ceremonies can surely come from a place of deep gratitude, but not necessarily. Often, they are based on numbers and rankings. Gratitude doesn’t come from spreadsheets.

Gratitude involves a deeper pause of true thanksgiving. I see this missing at many levels in organizations.

Grateful is missing when,

an executive hears a presentation and immediately responds with questions, concerns, critiques and challenges, without a pause to consider the depth and breadth of work entailed, the long hours, and the creative thinking.

a middle manager is frustrated in his current role, but overlooks his long career of exciting challenges and developmental experiences

a team leader acknowledges the team’s steady progress, but fails to understand the deep personal sacrifices of her team

a team member resents the promotion of a coworker, and overlooks all the ways he has grown himself in the past year

an employee didn’t receive the same tee-shirt as the guy in the next cube, and overlooks all the ways her family is benefiting from her job

a volunteer feels slighted by a decision, and misses the magic of being part of something important in the community


Thanks and recognition are about the receiver. As leaders, it is our job to say thank you and recognize good work.

Gratitude is also about the giver. Gratitude can transform our leadership.

Get Noticed: Start By Building a Strong N.E.S.T.

These are all phrases I’ve heard used in succession planning and other discussions over the years. The tragedy is that the folks being described in these conversations work extremely hard, have fantastic results, and are highly committed to the company. The trouble is, they are working too hard to get noticed.

“She’s more focused on her career than the business”

“He’s applied for so many promotions. He doesn’t seem to know what he really wants to do next, he just wants the title.”

“Every time I talk to that guy he tells me how great his team is doing”

“I’m not sure what it is, she’s just a bit over the top.”

Scott Eblin’s recent post, You’ve Got To Speak For the Work, was timely. I had just finished a conversation with a leader facing this same issue. A woman on his team had GREAT results. The trouble is, she was constantly telling everyone. She was getting tuned out, and worse, her results were being ignored because she was seen as needy. Her work to get noticed was backfiring. Scott shares how to “speak for the work” vs. promoting yourself.

Speaking for the work is not about jumping up and down saying, “Hey, look what I did!” You’re speaking for the work, not speaking for you. More specifically, you’re speaking for the work of your team. Part of your job as their leader is to advocate for them and get them the exposure they need to succeed. Another part of your leadership role is to make sure that your boss has the information she needs to successfully brief her boss.

I concur with all his points. Worth reading if you want your work to get noticed I have shared this article broadly.

I also believe a great way to “speak for the work” is to use it as a nesting place to help others to grow.

Four Build a Noticeable N.E.S.T.

N- Notice what is working and why

Channel some of your need to get noticed into a pursuit of continued excellence. The more you understand what is working, the easier it will be to replicate. Stay humble and open to ways to improve you own nest, so that it can be an incubator for future growth and ideas.

E- Extend Support

Extend your support to struggling peers. Share your tools and resources. Offer to lend them your best talent to help with a struggling project. They will likely be grateful and tell others about what you are doing and how it helped. It will give your best talent a chance to get noticed and they will be learning along the way.

S- Sell your team’s contributions

Nominate your team members for formal recognition programs. Use informal channels to provide shout outs. No one will every fault you for giving well-deserved kudos to your team. Work to promote the careers of others, pushing them as soon as they are ready out of your nest and on to the next adventure. They will carry your vision and reputation forward.

T- Talk about the great work of others

Be genuinely interested in the nest building of others. Be the first one to point out other’s accomplishments. Don’t worry about reciprocation. If you are doing great work, it will come.

Cheer in the Next Gear: How to Make Your Support Count

Each time a cyclist peddled past our corner at the Ironman triathlon , the woman sitting next to me on the curb would clang her large cowbell. No words. No sign of emotion. This went on for hours. It was almost a Pavlovian response. See bike, ring bell. She was committed. She never missed an athlete. For whom was her bell tolling? Why was this helpful?

In contrast, my husband Marcus is my cheering hero. I have run several marathons by his side, and watched him as he cheers from the inside of the race; looking to encourage anyone running behind, ahead or beside him. His cheers go something like this:

“Hey cheese head!” (quick caveat here, this greeting works best when the guy you are approaching is wearing a large styrofoam 3 cornered cheese hat). How’s it going? I’ve been watching you run and you really seem like you’re feeling strong. Have you run marathons before? What time are you going for? Oh yeah, you’re right on pace. YOU’VE GOT THIS!

He cheers the same way off the asphalt.

As leaders, how we cheer for our teams matters. When cheering is too general or lacks sincerity it can do more harm than good. It’s discounted at best, and can diminish a leader’s credibility.

How to CHEER with Impact

Whether your are cheering with a microphone in a large team context, or are encouraging someone by their side, there are specific ways to ensure your cheering is helpful.


Communicate your sincere confidence in the person or team’s ability to achieve the desired goal


Share why you know they can win. Honor specific accomplishments or characteristics that communicate your confidence and build theirs


Tap into what is energizing them about this goal, breathe your energy into that place


Draw on your own experiences to create an emotional connection


Celebrate what they’ve accomplished so far and rejoice in their wins

Recognition Rodeo: More Insights From The Online Community

I have been delighted with the dialogue and debate spurred by last Saturday’s post on Recognition Power Words, also recognized on Wally Bock’s 3 Star Leadership Blog this week.

All week, people have continued to vigorously contribute and comment on the question and post on various LinkedIn groups. The debate is fantastic. People care about this topic. Perhaps it’s because it can be so personal. We all know what it feels like when recognition touches us, or when we are overlooked.

Simon Strong added to the conversation through commentary and video clips that showcase sincere and heartfelt recognition  (Babe – that’ll do pig) and Jerry Maguire – ambassador of Quan, as well as the impact of being ignored, Blues Brothers: fix the cigarette lighter.

Simon also says:

“Not only do we have to take into account the culture and needs of the person we are praising, but also that of the person giving praise. My mum, because of her role in my life and because of who she is will probably be ‘proud’ of me. My brother will tell me to stop showing off. Both are forms of praise that I would respond to very positively. Conversely, if my mum tells me to stop showing off I would be devastated, and if my brother was ‘proud’ of me I would punch him.”

And so, in order to spark additional conversation, I offer what some other bloggers are bringing to the conversation. Please join the conversation by commenting on this post.

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