3 Keys to Giving Effective Praise

Dry as a Bone? 

Several years ago, our family drove across the country to California’s central valley. At the time, I remember being stunned by the stark difference between irrigated land and the semi-desert around it. There was an abrupt line between the lush green of the watered fields and the harsh brown of rock and dry dirt.

My analogy is not complicated:

Leaders, your words of appreciation are like water in a desert. The Leadership Drought is real, and many employees are suffering. So, what can we do about it?

Offer genuine praise.

Praise is a precious commodity that only leaders can give to their employees. Are your people getting it?

When you verbally recognize good work, when you write a short note complimenting an employee, when you praise the specifics of a team effort, you are irrigating your field and turning the desert into productive land.


Get More of What You (verbally) Reward

A leader recently bragged to me about his employees, “Our people run through walls.” I wonder if he knows why they do that. He has told me before that all his people are “A-players,” and I suspect he believes that is the reason they work so hard.

He is probably right about their initial motivation, but why are they still running through walls? It is probably because they have been told that they run through walls in a tone that speaks of company pride. They have heard their leaders tell others that they are all “A-players.”

The behavior of running through walls has been rewarded verbally (as well as in compensation packages, but money alone is not enough to inspire outstanding performance). Running through walls has become part of the culture of the company. Employees measure their own success by whether they have given a “run through walls” effort.

People live up to what leaders expect of them…and what leaders verbally say about them.


3 Key Components of Effective Praise

Have you ever heard a weasel-y apology? You know, the kind where the offender says some smarmy words but never really takes meaningful responsibility for their actions? Yeah. That stinks.

So does weasel-y praise.

People ignore comments that they believe are said just to butter them up or make them feel better. Effective praise cuts through the fluff and communicates to the heart.

Here is a simple three-point strategy to give effective praise:

  1. Praise a specific behavior.
  2. Recall details of a mini-story around the behavior.
  3. Tell what the behavior meant to you.

Here is an example of an effective praise message:

  1. The company-wide memo you drafted was very well worded.
  2. You captured the essence of the points we covered in our team meeting and summarized our intentions in a concise but still comprehensive way.
  3. That’s really important to me because you are reinforcing the core points of our culture and helping our people come together around what is most important.

Good leaders instinctively know that specific praise/recognition is more powerful than generic words. And praise that is tied to meaning or impact is more effective than a simple thank you.


What steps have you taken to reduce your Leadership Drought? What tactics worked best for your company? Tell us in the comments below and share this post to keep the conversation going!



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