A good leader makes other people feel important and appreciated. Appreciation and recognition are two of the main factors to boost motivation among people, and therefore commitment.
Many leaders and organizations around the world focus their efforts on what should be improved, forgetting what’s already there going well, and must be recognized. Thus, getting a wider perspective, paying attention, and truly listening to people give leaders the opportunity to motivate them, and achieve better results.
The magic relationship ratio
We can’t forget that leadership is basically about managing relationships. According to the Gottman Institute, the magic ratio is 5 to 1 to maintain a happy and healthy relationship. For each aspect to improve or negative interaction, there should be 5 positive interactions. This places appreciation and recognition at the top of the things a leader should practice.
A positive interaction can have different forms: active listening, showing empathy, intentional appreciation or explicit recognition, among others. Each of them has a different positive impact on people, all working in the same direction: make the other feel important and appreciated.
Many times, it’s not about what it’s said, but the behavior a leader develops regularly what make people feel recognized.
Words, and timing I’d say, reinforce or weaken our behaviors. Positive language improves our audience confidence, while negative or pessimistic language provokes insecurities and toxicity among the team. The words shape reality with their meanings.
If a leader only focuses on what should be improved, what the people’s weaknesses are, and how many problems and issues the team have to solve, they will end up creating a negative and demotivating workplace environment. Conversely, a positive leader focused on strengths, solutions, and possibilities will create a growing positive culture with more motivated people.
Both positive and negative language are associated with how the leader sees their people. There is a motivation theory, Theory X – Theory Y developed by Professor McGregor, saying that sometimes leaders see their people as inherent lazy, lacking ambition and not goal oriented. This negative mindset is a receipt for negative language, and thus demotivation.
Leaders should avoid this negative trap and make a conscious effort to actively search for a more positive, solution-based approach.
As I said, appreciation and recognition are key factors to employee motivation and satisfaction, and both can act at any level in the organization.
We must not mix with rewards, or at least not necessarily. Reward, as it’s commonly interpreted, is about receiving something tangible in exchange for the work completed. This is normally transactional, impersonal, and financial. On the other hand, recognition is about feeling meaningful and important, and getting noticed by someone. This is intangible, emotional, personal, and relational. Thus, the impact is different.
Appreciation and recognition should be different depending on how diverse your people like to be recognized. But always, they must be meaningful, sincere, frequent, at the right time, and with high visibility.
And don’t forget, you only do that if you pay attention to your people and truly listen to them, with the right positive mindset.