Leading with Praise—Showing Appreciation and Recognition

Laura Piana
Leadership skills

There are many reasons why bosses rarely give praise, including uncertainty about how the compliment or praise will be received by others. Because some people are suspicious of praise. Sometimes the lack of recognition is due to the general tone of the company. Perhaps it is simply not customary to give employees more than a "well done"—in the spirit of "no news is good news." However, the most common reason for not praising is one's own ego. After all, expressing admiration also means taking a step back and putting the other person in the spotlight. Sometimes it is easier to say nothing and not point out a good performance. However, praise is very important within a company!

Why Praise Is So Important


Most employees appreciate praise; they want their managers to communicate good performance back to them, give honest feedback and show interest. In recent surveys, nearly half of respondents cited a good working atmosphere and recognition as the most important aspects of a job. A lack of praise and recognition in the workplace is not only a source of dissatisfaction, but also a source of low performance. It also makes them feel less connected to their employer and more likely to leave.

Praise motivates and satisfies—and it reinforces desired behavior. Praise motivates individuals to strive for excellence and live up to expectations, ultimately resulting in learning. Praised behaviors often tend to be repeated, reinforcing their occurrence. And when employees set a good example, the entire department or company benefits. Studies show that praise and recognition from a manager can increase employee performance by up to 20 percent.

In addition, praise and recognition are good tools for maintaining and deepening relationships with employees. In fact, research shows that supportive and appreciative managers motivate their employees to help their coworkers when they need it. Praise, therefore, fosters a willingness to help in the entire team—and thus ensures a good team environment.

The Most Important Aspect Is Showing Appreciation

Showing appreciation is even more important than praise. Appreciation and praise are two aspects that are inseparable. If you want to lead with appreciation, you must also give praise and recognition. Gratitude, empathy and trust are other important factors that characterize appreciative leadership.

There is no universal definition of appreciation. For example, according to the Oxford Dictionary, appreciation describes the reputation, respect, recognition, or even high regard in which another person is held. Appreciation, then, is a positive attitude toward another person. It refers to the person as a whole. Every person has a need for appreciation and is happy to be treated with respect and attentiveness.

The book "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace" by Gary Chapman and Paul White places a focus on the importance of appreciation. It brings out people's strengths and can even positively influence their personality. When appreciation is lacking, however, it can have a fundamental impact not only on an employee's performance, but also on their well-being and the relationship between manager and employee. When employees are not appreciated, for example, when they perform outstandingly without being thanked, they quickly become unmotivated and dissatisfied In the worst case scenario, employees will become internally disengaged or even quit.

Expressing Appreciation—Towards Others and Oneself


There are many ways to show appreciation to your own employees or coworkers. For example, you can bring them a cup of coffee from the kitchen or bake a cake for the whole team. You can give them a sincere compliment on their charisma or show interest in their wishes, needs and concerns. Most importantly, it's essential to maintain a caring and respectful tone with them. Check out our e⁠-⁠training course on the topic "Communicating with Respect and Appreciation". By the way, communicating with appreciation also includes active listening, a technique in which you consciously perceive and process what is being said and make the other person feel that you are really engaged in what is being said. The idea is to show interest non-verbally, such as nodding occasionally, turning your head or making eye contact with the other person and to summarize what has been said in your own words. A smile now and then, meeting someone at equal footing, small gestures and attentiveness—it is not difficult to show appreciation to your fellow human beings. But you see, appreciation is much more than sending a card at Christmas thanking employees for their contributions.

Incidentally, you should not only give praise and appreciation to others but also to yourself. Pat yourself on the back in your mind when you have done something particularly well. And cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake or get angry about your own weaknesses—making mistakes and having weaknesses is human and no reason to doubt yourself! Focus on positive and productive thoughts instead of negativity: How can you work on yourself? What can you do differently in the future? How can you make sure this doesn't happen in the future?

Effective Praise—What Does That Look Like?


When praising, there are some important rules to follow to make sure your praise comes across exactly as you intended!

  • Do not praise according to the empty calories principle. This means that you shouldn't give praise like "Well done!" or "Great job!" to every person once a week just for the sake of praise. Instead, think carefully about when and with whom praise is appropriate. Furthermore, too much praise, even for less demanding achievements, devalues its meaning and loses its function. It then loses its ability to guide behavior and creates confusion rather than motivation and satisfaction.

  • Praise should always be understandable. It's important to be specific about why you're grateful to someone or what they did well. Answer the following question when you give praise: What did this person do particularly well?

  • Praise should always include a rationale as to why this accomplishment was especially important. This objectifies the praise and focuses not on the personal, but on the fact that the performance contributes to the company's goals.

  • Describe how you feel about what the person has accomplished: Are you happy? Do you like what was done? Does it make you proud? Report back to your employee or coworker what emotion you feel when you think about it. This makes the praise more tangible for them.

  • Praise should be given in a timely manner. So, give the praise right after you observe the desired behavior or hear about it from someone else.

  • Praise should always be given on an equal footing—not condescending. Do not lecture, rather offer respectful and appreciative praise.

  • Praise should be about behavior, not traits. You cannot control your employees' personalities—but you can control their behavior!

  • Honesty and authenticity are two very important values when giving praise. Therefore, you should only praise if you really stand behind it. You should not do this for profit or to benefit yourself. It's best to praise simply because there is a will to praise, for example, to bring joy to someone—that is probably the noblest motive.

For example, if you want to praise someone for a job well done, it might look like this: Your team member has just landed an unexpected job and tells you about it during lunch. Your praise might sound like this: "Wow, that sounds great that you were able to win this business for us! I am grateful that you worked so hard and were able to convince the client in the end, even though it wasn't easy. We even exceeded our monthly target with this order! It's great to have dedicated people like you on board—thank you for your dedication!"

As another example, let's say your new employee has been doing leadership training with an important client. The executives and managers asked difficult questions and were not very sociable. You attended the training to get an idea of how your employee is doing, and you are very impressed with their behavior. You might say something like this: "I admire the way you handled yourself in that difficult situation! I was really impressed by how confidently you dealt with the difficult questions and the calmness you radiated as a trainer. I am sure that the participants were able to take a lot away from this training and will continue to benefit from this knowledge in the future."

Praise and Showing Appreciation—When Is It Useful?

Praise is especially appropriate when employees meet challenging goals and overcome special challenges. For example, when they learn a new subject area that was previously unfamiliar to them, or when they temporarily take on an additional task because a team member is absent. Praise is also appropriate when the result does not meet expectations, despite the employee's best efforts. This shows your employees that you see and appreciate their efforts.

While praise should be measured, recognition is always appropriate! A benevolent and respectful approach to one another is an important prerequisite for peaceful coexistence and effective cooperation. No matter what you talk about or when you interact with your employee, appreciation should shape your every action. This starts with a nice greeting in the morning and ends with an appreciative and respectful approach even in challenging situations such as conflict or criticism.

"If you have healthy self-esteem, you are more likely to have positive relationships with others." -
Taking Praise Correctly


It's not just giving praise that can be challenging—sometimes accepting praise isn't so easy either. People react sheepishly, wave off embarrassedly or try to avoid the situation as quickly as possible. Often, low self-esteem is the reason that positive feedback is unpleasant. But it doesn't have to be like that. The next time someone praises you, just relax your shoulders and enjoy the positive feedback. Allow yourself to just enjoy the moment, because it's your moment! It's nice that someone noticed your efforts and let you know so clearly that they value your commitment. Saying "Thank you" or "Thank you very much, I'm very flattered" is a great way to let the other person know that you appreciate what they've said and that you feel valued. This "thank you" does not mean that you owe them a lifetime of gratitude, but simply that you are grateful for their words in that moment.

To conclude, we would like to quote US author Jess Lair, "Praise is like sunlight to the human spirit; we cannot flower and grow without it." That sums it up, doesn't it?

Learn more about praise, recognition and appreciation in our e⁠-⁠training course "Leading with Praise—Showing Appreciation and Recognition".

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