Acknowledging and Encouraging

Most leaders genuinely intend to manage people well. Unfortunately, many of them fail to engage and motivate others. Why? I believe it’s because you can’t just hope to be a good leader; you have to consistently practice proven leader behaviors.

As I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs, there are a set of directive and supportive behaviors leaders can employ to help both people and their organization thrive.  We call these leader behaviors SLII® micro skills.

Of all the supportive SLII® behaviors, my favorite is Acknowledging and Encouraging. If I could only use one management tool for the rest of my life, it would be this:  Catch People Doing Things Right.

Acknowledging Is a Learned Skill

Too often people feel they are working in a vacuum, because no matter how well they perform, nobody notices. Or, if their manager notices, they make overly general comments, such as, “I appreciate your efforts” or “thanks for the good job.” While that’s better than saying nothing, it doesn’t do a whole lot to motivate the person or help that person feel valued.

Do it quickly and in detail. For acknowledgment to be effective, it needs to be immediate and specific. When you notice a job well done, tell the person as soon as possible exactly what they did right. For example:

“When I was called away last week and couldn’t lead the department meeting, you stepped up, asked me for the agenda, and led the team through each item.”

State your feelings. Next, tell the person how what they did impacted you. Don’t intellectualize. State your gut feelings:

“We didn’t miss a single deliverable. I felt so relieved and supported. You made me and the whole department look good. Thank you!”

Notice how much more effective that is than merely saying, “Thanks. Good job.”

To Encourage, Try Praising People

I ask audiences all the time: “How many of you are sick and tired of all the praisings you get at work?” Everybody laughs, because to most of us, praising does not come naturally. Thousands of years of evolution have wired our brains to search for what isn’t right: Is that a stick on the trail or a venomous snake? Is the wind moving that bush or is it a bear? Our tendency to focus on what isn’t right is a protective mechanism. Unfortunately, it makes us more likely to catch each other doing things wrong.

Take marriage, for example. When you first fall in love, your partner can do no wrong. But after a time you notice what bugs you and you start saying things like, “I can’t believe you could make such a stupid mistake!” Far from motivating your partner, comments like these discourage and shut them down.

Praise, on the other hand, is inherently motivating. Research has shown that praise triggers the hypothalamus and releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical in our brains.

Being close counts. You don’t have to wait for exactly the right behavior before praising someone. Even if a person is doing something approximately right, it’s important to recognize their effort.

Suppose your child is just learning to speak and you want to teach him to say, “Give me a glass of water, please.” If you wait until he says the whole sentence before you give him any water, your kid is going to die of thirst! So you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” And when your kid says “waller,” you jump up and down, kiss the boy, and get Grandma on the phone so she can hear him say “waller.” It isn’t “water” but at this stage, you praise him anyway.

You don’t want your kid going into a restaurant at age 21 and asking for a glass of waller, so after a while you only accept the word “water” and then you start on “please.”

Think of encouragement in the same way. In the beginning, catch people doing things approximately right. As their skills develop, gradually move them toward higher levels of competence.

A Positive Cycle

The importance of acknowledging people’s efforts and encouraging their progress cannot be overstated. These leader behaviors set up a positive cycle: Your praise helps people feel good about themselves. People who feel good about themselves produce good results—and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.

So generate some positive energy and help people reach their full potential. Catch people doing things right!

Golfers: Are You Too Attached to Outcome?

I’ve often said that golf is an acronym for Game of Life First. I certainly proved that when I recently tried to qualify for the Golden Seniors team at my local country club.

In golf, as in life, you get good breaks you deserve and you get good breaks you don’t deserve. You get bad breaks you deserve and you get bad breaks you don’t deserve. Sometimes you’re playing better than you should and you have to deal with success and sometimes you’re playing worse than you should and you have to deal with failure. All in four and a half hours! Given the aggravation, it’s hard to believe that people pay money to play that game!

Well, I experienced all of this during my tryout, and ended up playing a lot worse than I should. I have to admit I was pretty disappointed in myself. But lo and behold, I got an email congratulating me for making the Golden Seniors roster! And just to prove what a crazy game golf is, last weekend I played with my grandson Alec and shot my best round since we started playing together. How about that! Such is life—and golf.

If you like golf, go to the library and check out a book I wrote years ago with Wally Armstrong, one of the great golf teachers in our country, called The Mulligan. It has a few gems you might be able to use.

One of my favorite parts in our book was about NATO golf—Not Attached To Outcome. I adopted the NATO philosophy years ago. I can’t tell you how much more fun it is to play golf this way than to grind my teeth over the score. I’m not worried about whether I’m going to be able to hit that hole or make that putt—I just get up there and let it happen.

When you’re attached to outcome, you might be having a good game but then you hit the ball wrong and find yourself focusing on the wrong things—every move you make, every breeze, every bump in the grass. Your body tightens up and you just can’t play as well. You become fearful of your results because you believe who you are depends on how you score or play that day.

When I play NATO golf, it doesn’t mean I’m not interested in hitting good shots or scoring well. It’s great when that happens, but I know that I am not my score. I am not each shot. As a result, I’m much more relaxed and able to swing freely at the ball without fear. I can focus on the fun, the camaraderie, and the beauty of my surroundings.

Spring is coming! Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead this Sunday morning. And remember: Life is a very special occasion—and golf isn’t too bad, either.

It May Be Time to Revisit Your Vision

Multiple priorities.

Duplication of efforts.

False starts.

Wasted energy.

 

Do any of these working conditions sound familiar? If so, it may be time to revisit your three-part vision:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What will the future look like if you are successful?
  • What values will guide you as you work toward your picture of the future?

I learned the importance of vision from my father when I was still an undergraduate at Cornell University. It was 1959, and Dad had decided to retire early from the Navy as a captain, even though he could have stayed on and been promoted to admiral.

I said, “Dad, why did you quit early?”

He answered, “Ken, I hate to say it, but I liked the wartime Navy better than the peacetime Navy. Not that I like to fight, but in wartime we knew what our purpose was and what we were trying to accomplish. The problem with the peacetime Navy is that nobody knows what we are supposed to be doing. As a result, too many leaders think their full-time job is making other people feel unimportant.”

Dad’s comments made me realize that leadership—whether you’re leading yourself or others—is about going somewhere. Without a vision, you lose direction. As the author and seminar leader Werner Erhard used to say, “You wind up driving your car down the highway of life with your hands on the rearview mirror instead of on the steering wheel, and you have a lot of accidents and a whole big explanation about how driving is very tough.”

My father eventually did become an admiral, because Congress passed a law that said if you got the Medal of Honor or the Silver Star during World War II, the government would “bump you up” one rank upon your retirement. Since Dad got two Silver Stars, he became a retired rear admiral.

Admiral or not, he taught me the importance of having a vision and keeping it up-to-date.

How about you? Are you focused on the rearview mirror—or the road ahead?

Managing By Values

Many years ago, I heard John Naisbitt give a speech on his book Reinventing the Corporation and was intrigued by a concept he called “Fortunate 500” companies. We all know about Fortune 500 companies that are ranked on revenue, profits, and market value. But John defined Fortunate 500 companies as organizations measured by the quality of service available to customers and the quality of life accessible to its employees.

Over the next few years, I worked with several people to put a process to this idea. The result was the book I coauthored with Michael O’Connor, Managing By Values. The three elements of the Managing By Values process are:

  1. Identify your core values
  2. Communicate the core values
  3. Align the values to your business practices

The most important part of this process is to decide what is most important to your company. Once you gain that clarity and define your core values, you must constantly communicate them to your employees. Use the values as a guidebook for how you make decisions and operate on a daily basis to show employees that you are completely committed to them. And make sure that your internal business practices are aligned with your values so individuals and teams can function easily and not hit road blocks because an internal process doesn’t support the values.

When you manage by values, you’ll have delighted customers who keep coming back, inspired employees who give their best each day, owners who enjoy profits made in an ethically fair manner, and suppliers, vendors and distributors who thrive on the mutual trust and respect they feel toward your company.

We certainly found this to be true during the economic downturn of 2008-2009. It became clear to us in February 2009 that we would probably fall, at a minimum, 20 percent short of our revenue goals for the year. The first thought of some was that we would need to downsize—get rid of some of our people. While that would be legal, we didn’t think it was consistent with the rank-ordered values we had at the time. Our #1 value was Ethics—doing the right thing, followed by Relationships—gaining mutual trust and respect with our people, customers, and suppliers; followed by Success—running a profitable, well-run organization. To us, downsizing would focus on our #3 value but miss doing the right thing and damage our relationships with our people. As a result, we involved everyone at an all-company meeting and together figured out how to cut costs with a minimum impact on people’s lives.

Fortunate 500 is a clever play on words but it is actually a very powerful concept—and perhaps even more important now than it was when I first heard about it. Today people, especially millennials entering the workforce, want to know that their work is worthwhile and they are contributing to a bigger cause. If employees share the common values of a company, they can achieve extraordinary results that give their organization a competitive edge.

What Great Leaders Know and Do: Results through People

I’m excited to sharePortrait Of Joyful Business Team the fourth element of the SERVE model from the first book I wrote with Mark Miller, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. But I can’t start without a quick review of the first three elements.

The S in the SERVE model stands for See the Future and points out the importance of having a compelling vision for the future. The first E in the model stands for Engage and Develop Others and focuses on hiring the right people for the right roles and investing in their development. The R stands for Reinvent Continuously and refers to personal reinvention, systems and processes reinvention, and structural reinvention.

The V in the SERVE model stands for Value Results and Relationships. For many years, leaders thought they had to choose between people and results, but in fact both elements are critical for long-term success. It’s not an either/or proposition—it’s a both/and approach. Leaders who focus only on results will lose their people—but leaders also can’t run a company as if it were a social club. People have to be held accountable for achieving goals. Successful leaders are able to create an environment where morale is high and people work diligently to achieve results. Leaders must set high expectations while maintaining respectful relationships that will inspire optimal performance.

Think about a time when you had a great leader. I’ll bet that leader challenged you to perform at a high level, but also provided support to help you reach your goals. Leaders who set clear goals with their people, listen to their needs, provide authentic feedback and coaching, and celebrate successes along the way will reap the benefits of working with a consistently high performing team.

The typical ups and downs of our economy require leaders to stay aware of business results, but smart leaders realize those results are achieved by people. I’ve always said that if you take care of your customers and create a motivating work environment for your people, profits and financial strength are the applause you’ll get for a job well done.

As you can see, great leaders must balance both critical elements—results and relationships. Measure your ability to do this by asking yourself these questions:

  • How much emphasis do I place on getting results?
  • How many of my people would say I make a significant investment in helping them succeed?
  • How have I expressed appreciation for a job well done in the past thirty days?

Answer honestly, and remember: mastering the art of leadership is a journey. There will always be room for improvement, so enjoy the trip.