Written By Tim Yeomans

Published on March 16, 2023

All of us have experienced the de-motivating and patronizing feelings that result from praise that is inauthentic, uninformed, or, at worst, sarcastic.

Leaders must be aware that praise or words of affirmation that are delivered without the knowledge and understanding of what was accomplished, or the unique combination of skills that were required to bring a project to fruition, will likely be viewed with skepticism and distrust. These forms of praise and affirmation can also be seen by the team as manipulative.

From the perspective of a leader, the goal is to have quality work and positive outcomes being produced on a continuous basis. While the underlying expectations of professionalism, duty, and contractual obligations may ensure some level of productivity, the “secret sauce” to enhancing motivation and empowering individuals to produce at a high level is a combination of authentic praise and genuine affirmation.

Keeping It Real

One important aspect of authenticity is the strength of the relationships leaders build with their team. If a leader truly knows the team members, understands their strengths, and demonstrates caring for their well-being, they have taken the first step to establishing authenticity.

When a leader is invested in improving the systems in which the team members work through regular communication and tangible efforts to improve working conditions, the leader may well be perceived to be genuine in their intentions. 

By making the growth, support, and advancement of team members a priority through formative conversations and listening carefully, the leader is in a position to offer authentic praise for work well done and genuine affirmation for efforts that align with established goals.

The above actions of an effective leader are not “sometime things.” Leaders that create the conditions and provide the support for great work understand that such leadership actions must be infused into every team member interaction. 

Great leaders remember that their actions speak so loudly that no one can hear what they are saying, and they know that when team members begin to notice anomalies in leadership behavior, trust and belief in the leader can be easily compromised.

The Moment of Praise and Affirmation

Leaders must be prepared to deliver an authentic word of praise when the moment is most opportune. Noticing good work in proximity to its occurrence sends the message that the leader understands the context of the process. Being specific in what aspects of the work are singled out for recognition also helps a great deal.

Recognition of the parts that other team members have played in the success and affirming those contributions is also important because it emphasizes the depth of the leader’s investment in the process.

When the time comes for recognition of long-term work, the key is preparation. Praise and affirmation that demonstrate the leader’s understanding of strategy  and tactical initiatives sends a message of authenticity to all who are intimately aware of the undertaking. Steps that were particularly pivotal will be well known by the team, and the fact that the leader is also aware and mentions those steps will speak volumes.

Again, there is no substitute for preparation when it comes to praise. As much is conveyed by what is omitted or forgotten as there is in what is affirmed. Make certain to be intentional in how praise is said and how it is distributed.

Being publicly praised in an authentic way greatly reduces the chance that a team member might be ridiculed by their peers. Affirmation that is based on data and goals as part of an ongoing conversation between a leader and all team members also enhances the authenticity of the recognition.

We know that team members that feel appreciated and believe their leader is invested in their ongoing success are most likely to be retained. Being intentional about leadership actions that support the praise that is being given is just as important as the affirmation itself.