In the end, people will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
As a leader, recognizing and celebrating the successes of your staff can be very motivating. Kouzes and Posner (2002) speak about encouraging the heart and its significance for people. As leaders, we often focus on the front-end deliverables related to planning, implementing, resourcing, and managing. It can be easy to forget about the power and energy that comes from sincere recognition and celebration of actual accomplishments. Emphasis here is on the word 'sincere'. If it's not coming from your heart to their hearts, it's meaningless. People see through insincerity very easily.
In his book Drive (2009), Daniel Pink cautions us that an excess of recognition and celebration can actually de-motivate people. Staff learn quickly that if there is no 'reward' on the way, the work is either not important or it's not worth doing because recognition won't come on the heels of completion. When recognition becomes routine, isn't sincere, and doesn't recognize truly worthwhile work, it means nothing.
For you as a leader, it's a case of knowing your staff and how much recognition and celebration are appropriate. Here are a few questions to guide your thinking about when and when not to praise.
- How often will it be given? In what forum?
- Does it always come from you? Can it also come from colleagues?
- Is it done publicly or privately?
- Is everyone recognized at some point? Is anyone left out?
- Do people know what merits recognition or does it appear to be arbitrary? Does recognition come when school/organizational goals are met?
- Are people praised for results, effort, or other reasons? Why?
- What have your staff told you about what they'd like in terms of praise, recognition, and celebration?
- Is it sincere and honest?