The Transformative Power of Recognition in Leadership

While working with a young leader, I was reminded once more of the power of recognition. I’ve written several articles about how I’ve used it to help build winning cultures in organisations, which has then helped to improve their performance.

We were discussing how he could look to move his leadership to the next level and how to get more out of his team and get them inspired.

I suggested that he should look to use recognition more, to thank his team for the work they did, and tell them they’ve done a good job – even for small tasks, as positive recognition will get them feeling good about themselves and looking to see what else they could do in order to keep getting recognition.

My coachee said he had started to do that with one of the team, someone who was really undervalued and underestimated, but who was really a great worker, it was just that his communication skills were not so great.

He said that he had started to give him positive feedback as well as look to support him by helping with training on his communication skills. He said that the impact of the recognition and the support had made his team member really look to want to improve further.

I told him that this was the power of recognition and that he was now becoming a good leader, rather than just a leader, and what we needed to do was to see what would move him from good to great.

My coachee immediately smiled and asked, “So you think I am a good leader?”.  I said, “Yes for sure, you have already inspired one member of your team through your actions and support, and inspiring people is what good leaders do”.

He smiled and I could see him contented and thinking to himself.

Then he pronounced, ‘I never thought I could be a good leader, but now that I see it’s possible, I will set my target to be a great leader. This is my new vision, so why not?’.

A small piece of positive feedback changed his opinion of himself and what he thought he was capable of.

We had cracked a self-limit in belief, that he couldn’t be a great leader, and we had done it with just a few small positive words.

He still has a long way to go, but at least he is now prepared to start the journey and start it with a belief that it could be successful.

This is the power of recognition, of positive feedback.

I am always surprised when it is frowned upon to give people too much positive feedback, or people tell me, we should only give positive feedback for excellent results.

My belief is counter to this, I believe that we get excellent results because we start to give positive feedback early on, we need to do that in order to get people to start the journey towards success, not just recognise them for achieving success. That’s not leadership.

I know we need to be careful not to overdo it and create complacency, but not overdoing it, is not the same as not doing it.

If we wait until people are halfway there towards success before we provide positive feedback, then many will not even begin the journey.

As leaders, it is our job to get as many people as possible to start the journey, and we do this by creating inspiring visions and providing positive feedback and recognition at the earliest stages.

Recognition is one of the most powerful tools we have and we should look to use it lavishly, rather than sparingly.

In my experience, the amount of success achieved is proportional to the amount of recognition provided. If you only provide a little at the end when people have been successful then you will have very little success.

The purpose of recognition is not about recognising the job that people have just done, it’s about encouraging them for the great job that they are going to do.

Just like my coachee, the point of the recognition was to get him to change his goal, to get him to think about becoming a great leader, and to start that journey.

Don’t save your best weapon until it’s too late, use it early and often and reap the benefits of a successful organisation with a winning culture.

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