Skilled leaders are like farmers; they plant seeds of greatness in their employees. Then these leaders provide all the conditions necessary for them to grow. So says Kevin Ames, co-author of Appreciate: Celebrating People, Inspiring Greatness. One of the “seeds” that leaders can plant is that of giving appreciation to your employees.
As leaders, we do appreciate our employees, but sometimes that gets lost in translation. For one thing, researchers have found that leaders tend to underestimate how much they express their appreciation. So even if you are feeling appreciative, your employees might not be sensing it.
Lucky for you, there is no “planting season” for appreciation—it blooms all year long. As an avid veggie gardener, I appreciate Ames’ metaphor. Further, he provided a distinction that many leaders miss: when praising employees, be sure to see the humanity in their efforts, not just the work they do.
Giving appreciation, says Ames, isn’t part of a company program, it’s a “moment” an employee experiences. And if done correctly, a moment after which the person leaves the interaction feeling appreciated. As such, you need to recognize the person first, then praise the work they do. Remember to say, “I appreciate you” [emphasis is mine] to employees. “If all you do is praise the work, eventually employees will wonder if you value them as human beings,” cautions Ames.
This is a subtle distinction, and one that I haven’t considered very closely. But when I think about it, some of the most effective leaders that I work with have said to me, some form of “Jennifer, I appreciate you.” They also praise the specific work I’ve done, and that’s great to hear. But there is still something so very satisfying about being praised for being you.
Mary Kay Ash, who was a ground-breaking female entrepreneur and a pioneer of harnessing recognition to build employee loyalty once remarked, “Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”
Think about the those whom you will soon have the chance the praise or recognize (kids, colleagues, volunteers . . .) How can you recognize who they are, as well as what they do so that they can grow into their fullest potential?