A person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated. I forget where I read that, probably on the never-ending interwebs or a book…never the less, I still feel appreciation is the most underutilized tool in a leader’s toolbox. Perhaps calling it a tool or tactic is wrong. It really should be a lifestyle, something you integrate into your personality. But unless that is a big-time goal for you personally, using it as a tool in a leadership setting will have to do.
Many authors write books on this subject. One book I thought was great was The Carrot Principle, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton is phenomenal; you should read it immediately. And outside of educational literature, this topic that most mothers have known for centuries is starting to catch on. Guys like Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins talk about being good to your people and using honey instead of vinegar. Mr. Vaynerchuk often speaks of a “honey empire” and Seth Godin often talks about recognition, which if it isn’t the same thing as appreciation it is its twin. Being recognized by the waiter at the restaurant you frequent is being appreciated for deciding on that restaurant. Being recognized at work for doing a great job is certainly appreciation. All credit goes to Mr. Godin. See his blog HERE.
As someone who is in a position of authority, it is understood you have many spinning plates to keep balanced. You must be everything. You must be honest, fair, encouraging, inspiring, goal-oriented, have high standards, and the list goes on and on. A deliberate objective for you and your team should be to focus on appreciation. It is very tempting to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, especially in the military, but this type of leadership only works for very few. Mr. Jobs was a unicorn; someone truly built to be so visionary and exceptional that he could use mostly vinegar. It won’t work for you.
There are many ways to integrate appreciation into your daily management style. Here are several ideas to get your started. Do it outside of a formal recognition or appreciation program. Everyone loves being the “Employee of the Month,” but there can only be one a month. Instead, take a much more deliberate approach and look for reasons to recognize great work. It can’t be used so often that it is watered down and you are always telling people they did a great job, especially if their work is not great, but typical. Look for exceptional behavior. Take time to send an email or find them in person and tell them a few things they have worked on that you appreciate. Doing so is far more effective that waiting for them to make a mistake and then crushing them. Also, make sure you are always reinforcing the culture you are trying to establish or maintain. In this case, the performance doesn’t have to be exceptional, as long as you tie it to progress on a goal that reinforces the culture.
It will feel weird at first, especially if it isn’t your typical approach, but it will get better and the difference it will make in the culture of the organization, the performance or the employees, and most importantly, the happiness and satisfaction of your people will be extraordinary!