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The desire to praise people or teams should be firmly rooted in the mind of every leader. When someone does good work or puts extra effort in for the team it feels natural to praise them for it. I wouldn’t want anyone to think their effort has gone unnoticed. HBR’s blog – The Easiest Thing You Can Do to Be a Great Boss – focuses on recognising great work. Their survey results show giving praise improves the “Boss-Employee” relationship, boosts morale, and improves job satisfaction. I couldn’t agree more and believe that giving praise in part of what makes teams stronger. That was until…

…I came across the following while reading Lean Enterprise (p222):

Dweck’s work shows that if we reward people for the effort they put into solving problems that they find challenging, it shifts them towards a growth mindset. If, in contrast we praise and reward people for their ability to deploy their existing skills, we create a fixed mindset.

This is a real challenge, have my praises been promoting a fixed mindset?! Have I been working against my teams because of the praises I’ve given?!

A lot can be said about fixed and growth mindsets, if it’s a new concept to you this YouTube video gives a good intro.

It’s important to remember this isn’t saying don’t praise, only praise for the right thing! Knowing what the right thing is can be the challenge! The only way to know if the work involved existing skills or was challenging is by knowing your team, otherwise, it’s guesswork! Knowing the people in your team and building relationships take time, but without putting the effort in it will be difficult to praise in the right way.

The sociologist, Benjamin Barber, once said:

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.”

We want people on our teams who are learners and we should start finding this out during the recruitment process, but this isn’t foolproof. Realistically though we will have a mix of mindsets in our teams which highlights the importance of how we praise. It’s the leader’s responsibility to understand the power praise has to ensure it is used in the right way.

I’m not writing this thinking I praise in the right way every time because I don’t! I’ve always believed a praising culture is a healthy culture and I’m thankful for all the work my teams do. It didn’t feel natural to me to stop and think before I gave praise, but it’s something I’ve started doing so I can be smarter with my praises. Putting the teams first and their growth should be one of our highest goals which means we have to understand them, know them, in order for our praises to be effective.

Praising people is often overlooked, then when we do praise it could be hurting the team! I would encourage leaders to never stop praising, only understand the influence it can have so we can be smarter about it.

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