By Kevin Haas – November 2020

If you feel like you’re not doing enough to lead your team successfully, be sure you’re incorporating this tried and true best practice. In this blog post, Kevin defines appreciation and explains how appreciation can be a highly effective antidote for the challenges you and your team may be facing.

Appreciation: An Underestimated Antidote

On a recent call with a client, I received a request for help. My client told me that he was “out of ammo” for leading his team. The grind of “managing through covid” was getting to him and his team was worn down. Buckling under the strain of a prolonged and increased workload, and exacerbated by lack of interaction, the wear was evident to him as a leader. In our call, Steve indicated that he felt like he has been doing everything he could to hold it together but did not know what else he could offer the team. He could see the stress of his colleagues. He felt helpless, like he was failing them because he could not do more. He was also stressed and fatigued from the year with no real end in sight.

I’ve talked to many clients and friends over the last few weeks and it seems that Steve isn’t alone.

Leadership in 2020 appears to be a bit like everything else in 2020… a bit weird. We are all in uncharted territory. While there is some recent good news on the vaccine front, the reality is that things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Covid cases are spiking almost uniformly across the country. We have deep rooted challenges in many sectors of our economy. And we are headed into a holiday season that will be unlike any our generation has experienced.

While there are no “magic bullets” for times like these, there are a couple of age-old practices that can be quite helpful. The power of appreciation is among the highest on that list. (Listening is also quite high on the list. Please check out Listening: The Secret Weapon of Emotional Intelligence for more information.)

What is appreciation and why is it important?

Appreciation is the art of catching people in the act of success. When we acknowledge the efforts and/or results we’re seeing, we are not only “thanking” our employees in the most fundamental and traditional sense, but we are also sending a strong and clear message that we see them. We are overtly communicating to our employees or team that they matter and that their efforts matter. It is a subtle yet powerful message on the most fundamental level: you matter and what you do matters. With all that is going on in the world and the separation that we currently have from each other, sometimes a small comment or two goes a long way.

How to do appreciation

There are a couple basic guidelines to make appreciation most meaningful:

  • Be specific about the behavior, action or effort you are appreciating
  • Share why it is important
  • Link to impact where you can (how the effort or action will help the team, customers, an individual, etc.)
  • Be genuine, be sincere and be timely.
  • Link to the company or team strategy, initiatives, priorities, etc. (how does the behavior and impact help us with what we are trying to accomplish)
  • The general rule with feedback is to criticize privately and praise publicly. While this is a good basic framework, take it a step further to understand the preferences of your team members. Some will thrive on public praise while others might be horrified. When in public, when you are acknowledging the effort and results that you are seeing, remember that everyone is watching. It’s a great way to give attention to those who are doing things in alignment with your key initiatives, strategy, work, etc. 

Common mistakes leaders make related to appreciation

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is mixing up “appreciation” and “recognition”.  Appreciation is acknowledging both effort and results that are appropriately aligned with expectations, needs, strategy, etc. Recognition is usually around the results. There is nothing wrong with recognition; just realize that it is different than appreciation. You don’t need the results to thank people for their hard work, dedication, and efforts. Appreciation can be done daily. Even lower performers can be thanked for their efforts that are helpful and aligned.

One second to last word…

In the context of our current environment, appreciating those around you can not only be a helpful management tool, it can also help to lift the spirits of those on your team, your colleagues and even yourself. The power of a small “thank you” can go a long way and frankly, we all need a little bit of lifting up these days.

One last word…

As you begin to genuinely appreciate those around you, you may notice that the act of appreciating goes a long way toward lifting your spirits as well. Pay attention to how offering genuine thanks nurtures not just others, but also feeds your soul. Managing through a pandemic and all the external challenges we face at this time is hard. As much as we might like to “manage around” the difficulties, in reality, we only have the option to “manage through” them. Taking some time to reflect and take care of yourself can help sustain you on the journey ahead. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.