Imagine for a moment that you work in a cherished company and your team shared a common goal or standard for excellence in your work. Imagine your leader believed your team could and would be able to be ‘the best’ at what you do. What if your leader was out on the front line paying attention to the things your team did right and noting how your team contributed or how your team exceeded standards?
And what if your leader took the time to talk about your team’s accomplishments and actually discussed which team members really went above and beyond normal expectations. Then, imagine further that he gathered your team all in a room to tell the story of your team’s accomplishment, to enjoy the moment of celebration and remind your team of the company’s common goal.
I imagine that would somehow set an example of positive belief in your team’s abilities and worth in what they are doing. I also imagine that would help you to solidify your understanding of what you and your team are trying to achieve and how you could contribute more.
The moral of the story is simple. The heart of a leader must be a caring one. Without this heart, his leadership will be without purpose. A leader’s heart is the one that bridges the connection between him and his team members.
Everything starts within as a leader. Most leaders fail to recognize the efforts of others because expressing genuine appreciation means showing emotions. For most people expressing emotions is a weakness. This is what happened to someone I know. He was afraid of praising his staff and their good work because he did not want to be perceived as playing favourites. However, he realized that his staff did really deserve to be recognized.
During a presentation, he publicly thanked people for fostering a collaborative spirit on the project. He later realized that what he had done established a human connection with his colleagues that had not been there before. After that, communication was more open among his staff and he felt less guarded and people responded with a new level of enthusiasm for his leadership.
People like to be recognized in different ways– high fives, thank you notes, certificates, free movie tickets and so many others. It’s great to figure out what makes people tick and what really makes them feel valued. At the very least though, say thank you and acknowledge the good things people are doing. It will make a difference. Show people with both words and actions that you appreciate them.
As part of encouraging the heart, the authors of ‘The Leadership Challenge’ identify two commitments:
Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
Time after time research reveals that the primary reason employees give for leaving an organisation is ‘limited praise and recognition’. For most people it is most important to feel valued and appreciated. However, most leaders believe that salary, job security and advancement opportunities are most valued by their employees. As a result, little consideration is given to daily recognition. Ironically, when leaders themselves have been asked what is most important to them they too ranked being appreciated, informed and listened to as most important.
For some reason, many leaders are uncomfortable with the thought of ‘encouraging the heart’ seeing it as too soft or wimpy. In many organisations, the mere mention of this topic results in laughs and discomfort. Perhaps we have become so used to not receiving recognition and care in the workplace that we’ve lost sight of its importance. Or perhaps we are still uncomfortable talking about our feelings in the workplace. Yet, evidence reveals that our feelings are important, regardless of our level in the organisation.
Following are some techniques to assist leaders when encouraging the heart:
Set clear standards
It is critical that recognition revolves around valued behaviour within the organisation; appreciating those individuals who have demonstrated stellar performance based on clear expectations. When this element is apparent, recognition becomes an opportunity to reiterate what is valued; while reminding people how important they are to the organisation.
Expect the best
There is an old saying: “We get what we expect.” When leaders assume incompetence is all around them, that is exactly what they will find. Alternatively, when leaders expect greatness, it will surely show up. Many of you may be familiar with the Pygmalion Effect, a theory which states that even if the employee does not believe in themselves initially, when others show their belief in them, the employee’s confidence will rise. People have a tendency to live up or down to your expectations as a leader.
Far too often, leaders spend their time in the ‘field’ identifying problems and coaching to opportunities. When this occurs, the number of missed opportunities for catching people doing things well is immeasurable. Kouzes and Posner take a familiar concept of MBWA (Management By Walking Around) to a new level in what they refer to as CBWA (Caring By Walking Around), a very important one word difference. Effective leaders not only notice what employees are doing well but recognize the significance of their actions.
The most effective leaders know what is important to each individual and customize their recognition to be most meaningful to the person. When the recognition is in direct alignment with the individual’s values and priorities, even the smallest token can have tremendous impact. In my experience, I have seen organisations put a lot of money into recognition programmes, yet when the delivery is impersonal it completely diminishes the value of the investment.
As we continue to move into a virtual business world through e-mails, teleconferences and cell phones, social support is not as prevalent as it once was in the workplace. Public ceremonies not only provide a forum for reiterating standards and values, but they also give people an opportunity to come together and become closer. I continually hear people say one of the primary reasons they come to work is because of the people they work with. Yet, we often don’t provide the needed opportunities to nurture this desire for social interaction. In fact, many leaders view public celebrations as wasteful with so much work that needs to get done, while overlooking the important fact that satisfied employees are productive employees.
Set the example
Leaders must model expected behaviour. In order to create a culture of celebration, the leader must go first. As a leader, it is critical to walk around and get to know the people, inquire on what is important to each individual and take note of what they are doing. This is not an easy practice, it takes diligence and effort to establish clear standards and then support others in achieving them. As Kouzes and Posner state, “When leaders do get personally involved in encouraging the heart, the results are always the same: The receiver and the giver both feel uplifted. The reflection in the mirror is the one you portray.”
Create conditions for success
Controlling leaders have low credibility. Inspecting, correcting and checking up on people signal a lack of trust. Create an atmosphere of trust and confidence to show that you fully believe that the outcome will be the best and that you are not constantly worrying that the worst will happen.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)