"Don't screw it up."
A former manager said this to me many years ago after he told me I was receiving a promotion in the company. He wasn't the best at recognizing others - obviously. He never handed out trophies, or even many thank you's. Yet, he was one of the best people I've ever worked for.
Recognition is super critical to creating a positive work environment. Many leaders, however, would openly admit that they're not great at recognizing others. And don't necessarily like the idea of playing the role of "cheerleader" in their organization.
I would imagine that you could think of at least one person you've worked for where celebrating wasn't in that person's DNA. And research would say that is true. For example, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking defined the term of a defensive pessimist, someone who is more likely to picture all the things that could go wrong, rather than focusing on all of the great possible outcomes.
It's hard to celebrate and "be positive", when a leader might naturally be inclined to think about the worst.
So if recognition and focusing on the positive is so important, how do these leaders, who are focusing on what could go wrong, still build successful teams and team members? They've created recognition opportunities in how they:
Ask for feedback. Studies show that the best performing leaders are those who are asking for the tough feedback. And the ones who are afraid to hear the truth have the lowest performance. By asking for feedback, you're creating an opportunity to recognize others by showing that their opinions matter.
Have the difficult conversation. Similarly, negative feedback is the most useful type of feedback to provide and receive. And employees want to receive more negative feedback from their leaders than they're receiving today. Recognize your employee by caring enough to share negative feedback to help them improve.
Allow others to own it. The first time I realized I was allowed to fly solo on a large project, my boss simply stopped showing up to the project meetings. Building confidence in others by allowing them to own large goals or projects can create recognition naturally But a quick heads up before the meeting might be helpful!
Create commitment devices. James Clear turned me on to this term, which is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. Great leaders create choices now knowing their future self will only get in the way. They allow others to schedule monthly luncheons. They ask their team to hand them one thank you card a week for someone that needs to be recognized. They pull together the help needed to ensure recognition happens consistently and authentically.
Embrace failures. And then when I screwed up on that large project, my boss didn't blame. His question was focused on "What are you going to do next?" Allowing others the ability to learn from their own mistakes can not only create learning, but also recognize confidence in others.
Help in a time of need. Some leaders don't remember birthdays, but recognize others when they need it the most. My family and I experienced a near loss of a close family member many years ago. I didn't receive cards or flowers, but rather I was surrounded by manager and my team so I would be able to focus on family.
The ability to recognize can be highly beneficial. While not necessarily a difficult skill to execute, it doesn't come naturally to show appreciation for others. By embracing the natural ways you think, along with day-to-day opportunities to build off of the strengths of your people, you'll find you're recognizing in more impactful way.
Just don't screw it up.