THE SCIENCE AND VALUE OF PRAISING STATEMENTS
Leaders must be good at many things. For their followers, they should: provide a vision, a direction, and with some values for decision-making. Then be positive role models, enable progress by removing barriers and provide coaching and express appreciation for contributions made.
To express appreciation and to give positive, self-worth strokes, a simple but powerful tool is the "praising statement" which has been around in different disguises since the beginning. Some of us may have learned how to express and receive sincere thanks and compliments while growing up. Others learned about praising and other skills in leadership courses. And, a more recent and popular version of this tool is the "one minute praising" found in the book The One Minute Manager.
WHEN AND HOW TO DELIVER PRAISING STATEMENTS
For most models, the rules for when to give and how to give a praising statement are much the same. If someone around to you does any of the following, then a praising is appropriate:
- They do something consistently well and serve as a role model and standard setter.
- They do something exceptionally well or go beyond normal duties, especially in a time of crisis.
- Or, they do something at a new level of excellence for them, a personal best, regardless of how they compare to other performances.
For the praising statement itself, most models include at least the following three parts:
- Mention the specific task or completed act that they did
- Mention what personal qualities that they drew upon to make their performance possible
- And, mention what positive consequences or benefits have or will accrue to significant others such as - yourself, co-workers, customers, etc.
As long as a person does a worthy act and another praises with the three ingredients above, the praising statement will be perceived as authentic and received with some degree of satisfaction. A praise-tightwad might get suspicious looks for inconsistent behavior, but the recipient would still know that the facts were true and a positive acknowledgement from anyone else is enjoyed.
WHAT IF THEY DON'T QUALIFY FOR PRAISINGS OR, MESS-UP?
We can not give praising statements that are unwarranted or empty, because people will sense their falseness. They might feel manipulated, mistrustful, or patronized; or, they might just see us as a harmless, gladhander.
We can, however, make honest praising statements as public as possible. Recognition for one person in front of others or in a company newsletter can stimulate some wishful thinking by and some positive imitation from those who are praise-starved.
There are many people who want to grow and be appreciated, but they either don't know how to get started on an achievement path; or, they more likely don't have the confidence to try to be better. A good coach can help them get started and praise them for each positive step along the way until the success cycle becomes self-fueling.
If a person's performance has deteriorated or fallen short, then a good coach should constructively criticize them, which is another skill and topic. The ratio of praising statements to constructive criticism statements is an important consideration.
If a person has little experience at a task and a fragile self-esteem, any type of criticism can be paralyzing. A young child or a nervous rookie might need, for example, a ratio of about 8 praisings to 1 criticism. Even experienced, mature teammates might need a 4 to 1 ratio during a new program when failures and insecurity are higher; otherwise, a 1 to 1 ratio might work for the same people when operating conditions are stable. We must be situationally flexible with the ratio of positive and negative feedback to insure steady growth and maturation of followers.
THE REAL PROBLEM PRAISE-TIGHTWADS
If praising statements are the oxygen for follower growth, why are so many managers praise-tightwads? Related questions are: if managers are supposed to grow followers into self-confident, independently responsible teammates, then haven't tightwads been promoted to their level of incompetence? And, how can these managers grow out of this shortcoming?
A guess as to why "there are so many tightwads" is that people who are gifted, achievement-oriented, rational and who are articulate do well in the both school and initially business. Early and frequent business promotions are, however, largely based on individual output and self-promotion at which they excel. When these hard-chargers reach a management post, they may do the administration part well, but they are weak at the first-time challenge of working with, through and for followers.
If we asked a praise-tightwad to justify their policy, their answers might be: "everyone knows the rules, the goals and the score why do I need to pat them on the back? When I was working my way up, no one praised me. Give them some praise and they may slack off. I'm not comfortable with this emotional, massage-job stuff; etc."
We might counter these answers with this statement: "not everyone is wired to work for numbers, many want to serve and be appreciated, they live for praise and acknowledgement." Just because you were denied strokes, doesn't make it right to pass on the sins of past managers. You could rescript and improve the quality of company leadership. If you praise people, they love it and will work harder for more praise. And, if you can't listen to and tap into others' emotions then you can't help them to achieve a passionate and sustainable commitment to their work, which is a key skill of good leaders.
Do we really believe these counter-points? There is, after all, some of the praise tightwad in all of us. Few of us will ever be 10th degree, black-belt praisers, who can spontaneously, enthusiastically and empathetically deliver effective praising statements whenever possible. But, we could commit to growing along that path.
Praising statements are a powerful and constantly necessary leadership responsibility, especially in these times of continual change. For organizations to respond to change requires continual new growth efforts by all employees. For all of us to learn we must fail and be insecure novices at new challenges. Lots of praisings for good mistakes and new personal bests are vital to the individual learning which adds up to successful corporate change. To be successful transformational leaders, we must first transform ourselves to be great praisers.
Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc. Article 6.3