Employee Motivation

The Power of Encouragement: Getting Results with Positive Actions

I decided to take a walk at my local park. It’s a great workout about a half mile loop around a paved path that has steep hills. I wasn’t running, but I was walking at a very brisk pace. A man I did not know was running the path in the opposite direction. On the first lap passing me, he said, “Good job!” I wondered to myself: why is this man talking to me? I don’t know him. On the second lap, he gave me the thumbs up signal and a smile.

This was really something, I thought. A guy who is a complete stranger is encouraging me on my walk! On the next lap, he clapped for me. On the last lap, I was so inspired I started running. I wanted to please my coach! As George Adams once said, “There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else. I don’t care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause.”

As a leader, I want you to think today about the power of encouragement. You could be, by the way, the Chief Encouragement Officer of your organization. I know what you are thinking: “Here comes that motivational mumbo-jumbo.” Well, listen up, Skipper. As a leader, your job is to get results, and the results aren’t gotten through you but through people. These people need energy, encouragement, appreciation, and acknowledgment. Here is a pervasive problem; many leaders don’t take the time to provide any kind of encouragement to those who work for them.

I once had a leader say to me, “I am not going to compliment you for doing something we pay you to do.” Really? Well, that sure made me feel good, right? Nope. In fact, it made me angry and left me feeling very much unappreciated. Why would you say that to a team member?  

Whenever I’m at a party or on a plane, I can count on running into someone who complains about a boss. The complaints almost always go back to the one key point: failure on the boss’s part to express appreciation.

So here are some ideas for providing encouragement and expressing appreciation that are quick and effective. They may seem small, but they work.   

Talk to people. 

I have been at company meetings several times and have watched a key executive walk into the room, pass by everyone, and go across the room to speak only to other executives. It was as if the “small people” weren’t worth addressing or acknowledging. Shocking and foolish. In my opinion, this is a big strategic error and can and will create resentment.

I once observed the founder of a Fortune 500 company work a room of 250 people, and he made it a point to speak to each person and shake everyone’s hand. This created a buzz of energy in the room; everyone felt appreciated and honored. When you are working daily or in one of your offices, do you take the time to say hello to people as you pass them? If not, do you at least nod to give them positive nonverbal signals? 

Acknowledge their effort.

I was once a Vice President at a Fortune 500 Company. If someone did something I felt was great, I would write them a short note on a note card (with my name at the top) thanking them for doing such a wonderful job. Often as I traveled, I would go in someone’s office and see the card I wrote taped up on the wall. This taught me an important lesson: everyone wants to be acknowledged. The biggest complaint I hear from frontline workers is simple lack of acknowledgment. Recognize and thank people when they have worked lots of hours or have put in effort above and beyond the call of duty.

Perhaps worse than not acknowledging others’ efforts is leaders taking full and complete credit for a team member’s work. Be magnanimous and give credit where credit is due. Publically and privately acknowledge people when they do great work. Leaders who give credit look stronger and more confident than those who don’t.

Balance criticism.

It is incredibly easy to criticize other people’s work. Mistakes are part of the human condition. As a trainer, I often ask people to critique their role-play in class starting with “what went well?” Invariably they start with negative feedback. Maybe it is human nature. I want you as a leader to find a balance between positive and negative feedback. Too many managers just pound away at a team member, and eventually, morale goes way down. I am not suggesting, by the way, to not provide critical feedback when it is needed.  But if you’re already pouring on the salt, mix in a little sugar.

Give surprise rewards. 

Show appreciation when people least expect it. Find small ways to reward them. This might be in the form of a gift card, a few extra hours off, taking someone to lunch, or even buying the team a box of donuts in the morning. Just make sure it is when they least expect it and it is positioned as a reward. Say, “I know how hard you have been working on the project. Here is a small token of my appreciation. Thanks.” Done properly, your gesture will be the topic of conversation at dinner that night. “Hey, you’ll never guess what my boss did at work today.”

I have leaders ask me all the time, “How do you motivate people?” One of the answers is deceptively simple and that is to provide them with encouragement. As Sidney Madwed once said, “The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Yet, almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow to their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they need to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond the wildest dreams. We would have more than one Einstein, Edison, Schweitzer, Mother Theresa, Dr. Salk and other great minds in a century.”

So start today.

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