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From the Director’s Playbook: Endorse, Endorse, Endorse

3 min read

We all need to be seen, we need to be appreciated, and we need to know what we’re doing right, just as we need to know when we’ve misstepped. If we’re only being told when we misstep we tend to freeze, afraid to take the next step forward.

My colleague Carol Lempert wrote a wonderful blog about spontaneous praise and its important place in your leadership toolkit. Gallup backs up her thesis – the #1 tool for engaging and retaining your employees is to catch them doing something great and acknowledging them right away.

There are various schools of thought on how often to do this. A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of specific, positive feedback to constructive/critical feedback is the average; I’ve seen it go as high as 7:1 if you want to create a superstar team. When I shared this data with my colleague Meghan she sarcastically said, “Do we need to start complimenting people for getting dressed in the morning?”

Not quite.

But we do need to earn the right as managers to ask for improvement, as counterintuitive as that may seem. We need our people to know that we see what they are doing well and the reason we are suggesting adjustments or changes is that we want them to do better, not just for the organization, but for their own growth and development.

There is an old director’s trick in the theater that I learned in graduate school. If you want an actor to repeat a certain behavior, you endorse it: “I love the way you crossed to the downstage table quickly and tossed back the drink as if you were desperate to get away from him.” I am here to tell you the actor will do that EVERY time, even if the theater catches on fire. Directors endorse the behavior they want to see repeated.

Non-actors aren’t much different. We all need to be seen, we need to be appreciated, and we need to know what we’re doing right, just as we need to know when we’ve misstepped. If we’re only being told when we misstep we tend to freeze, afraid to take the next step forward.

I am a huge proponent of catching someone doing something great. You definitely want me in your audience as I have spent a good amount of time refining my eye for what is working, and what is unique about the person who is leading or presenting. Here are a few things I’ve learned and practiced along the way:

  • Be the best audience member in the room. I make a point of making eye contact with the person who’s leading the meeting and nodding and smiling to encourage them. Hundreds of participants in Ariel classrooms testify that positive energy from the audience improves their presentation. It’s such an easy way to help your people get a win.
  • Embrace the paradox. As you are observing the person, or their work, try this exercise: think of an adjective and a noun (or two adjectives) that describes their unique style, i.e. “calm authority” or “rigorous AND approachable.” Sometimes we have strengths that can seem contradictory but are actually quite complimentary. Try putting them together.
  • Throw away the feedback sandwich. It. Is. moldy. The days of couching criticism between two endorsements are over. If you are catching people being great you earn the right to be direct when there is an opportunity for improvement.

Actors fight to work with directors who endorse them AND help them grow, and the same will be true for you if you make specific, timely, positive feedback part of your management style.

I’m confident you will succeed (and I’ll tell you if you do).

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