Most of these “Leadership Proverbs” I’ve just picked up, absorbed and imbibed by some process of osmosis along the way and don’t know exactly whom they originated from. But when I know I’ll make reference, and when I don’t it’s not that I’m ungrateful or that I want to appear like a genius. It’s genuinely that I can’t remember. So if I’ve flogged something from you let me know and I’ll happily acknowledge it.
Praise is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to inspire people to go where they need to go and achieve what they should be achieving. Words are incredibly powerful things. Everyone has had the experience of when a person has used their words against us and has absolutely cut us to the core and destroyed a dream or an ambition or our confidence itself. And if that moment has happened in front of a group or crowd the hurt and damage is multiplied.
The power of words and the power of a group are both very powerful indeed.
And thus praising publically is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal as a leader. Let’s break this down some more.
Praising publically is a way of announcing and reinforcing the kinds of behaviours and values you’re looking for. Let’s say you want people on your team to “go outside their comfort zone”, which is a little bit vague and ambiguous. When someone steps up and tries something new that they’ve never done before you praise them for it. Point it out and explain that that is a great example of what you were talking about when you said “go outside your comfort zone”. Praising people when they do what you want them to do is a chance for you to give a concrete, real –life example of what it might look like. And so the people on your team will begin to understand what you want and what you were talking about.
It will also help because what gets rewarded gets done. And particularly if you work with volunteers, and so have limited resources to use as rewards, public praise can be a powerful reward. (Though it is worth pointing out that even with staff, very few people are motivated purely by money and financial bonuses. Praise is still powerful among paid staff) If you make someone a hero, then they’ll learn that what they did will be rewarded and so they’ll do more. Then it will communicate to the rest of the team that if they want to be a hero then that’s what they need to do and so you’ll get even more of the behaviour you want.
The assumption behind all this is that your praise has been specific. Saying publically, “Great work Mary. Keep it up.” is good, and better than nothing, but not great. It’s not concrete, it’s vague and ambiguous, and it doesn’t show people specifically what you liked and want to see more of. Plus it won’t feel as weighty to the person you’re praising. It will feel like when someone asks you, “How’s it going?” It’s nice, they’re being polite, but they don’t actually care. “Good work” has the same kind of vibe about it. Powerful praise is specific praise.
Lastly, public praise needs to be accompanied by private praise also. If all your praise is only ever public, no matter how genuine, people will begin to think it’s only a motivational tool and isn’t authentic but rather simply a manipulation. Private praise misses the opportunity to deepen the impact of the praise in the person and also misses out on an opportunity to re-communicate and reinforce the goals and values you’re looking for from the team.
Praise genuinely. Praise specifically. Praise frequently. Praise publically.