I may have been one of the last leaders in America to have this particular insight, but it finally dawned on me that a lot of the people on my team were working extremely hard – and achieving remarkable things – all in expectation of later receiving recognition.
My epiphany: When I took time to formally acknowledge and thank my employees for their committed efforts and achievements, they could feel the work they did mattered. They were certain I understood how much of themselves they had put into getting great results – and thrived in being appreciated.
Recognition for them, therefore, was an extremely powerful incentive.
Once I fully understood this, I immediately made some permanent changes to my leadership practices. First, I “institutionalized” recognition by delivering it at the same place, time and manner every month. I did this so my employees would trust that their extraordinary efforts and accomplishments never would be overlooked. The surest way to dim ambition and initiative, I realized, would be to let someone work especially hard, meet my expectations, and then not give them the reward that’s inherent in recognition.
When I’m choosing the next book to read, I typically gravitate to non-fiction. I’m super motivated to learn new information and always am excited when I come across insights that can improve my life in some way.
My problem has never been in finding enough wonderful material to read. My problem is recalling the really great ideas soon after I complete my reading. Many years ago, I read this fabulous book that was jam-packed with amazing content. But just a few weeks after I’d finished it, I struggled to articulate all the concepts that had so impressed me.
At first fearing I’d begun to lose some of my marbles, I later came to a more rational conclusion. It’s challenging for anyone to read 300 pages and then retain all the content. Tied to this insight, I got into the practice of summarizing every non-fiction book I read. Generally, these summaries are 5-10 pages and take me a couple of hours to produce. Let me explain what I do – and why I think this is such a good idea.
On my most recent birthday, I got a call from a former employee, Lucas.
Now a very successful bank manager, Lucas was a brand-new teller when I first met him fifteen years ago in my role as Regional Manager. After being seriously injured in a helicopter crash, he’d been forced to leave the Marine Corps to find an entirely new career.
With no banking experience, he was starting over from square one.
In our earliest conversation, Lucas told me he already was dreaming of becoming a branch manager and hoped to make that progression quickly. Knowing the learning curve ahead of him was steep for these aspirations, I advised him to master every assignment he was given and to pursue excellence all along the way.
Based upon feedback I subsequently received from his different supervisors, it was clear Lucas took my advice to heart. Quite consistently, I heard he was extremely hard working, committed to learning and contributing at exceptional levels.
Occasionally when Lucas earned a step up the ladder or helped his branch achieve an important goal, I sent him a handwritten note in acknowledgement. Very briefly, I expressed my congratulations and appreciation — and encouraged him to stay the course with respect to his desire to become a manager.
Even though it had been over seven years since Lucas and I last worked together, during my birthday chat he surprised me by mentioning these very same notes!
“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” ~ Plato
Leaders beware: the first week of January is a tough time for a lot of people at work.
Your employees are returning to their jobs with fond memories of vacations and holiday celebrations lingering in their minds, and the thought of starting over against new goals and objectives is likely feeling quite oppressive.
If you’re at all human yourself, you too may be feeling some degree of dred about taking on the New Year and also inclined to ease into things a bit before you fully engage. Contrary to these impulses, I urge you to go bold and hit the New Year running.
What happens (or doesn’t happen) in January sets the tone for what’s to occur in the next eleven months. Throughout my long career, I watched many teams start out slowly to begin the year and never fully recover to achieve their most important annual targets. More inspiring is that teams (and leaders) who get off to great starts in January almost always ensure a highly successful year ahead.
There are four things I have learned will set you and your teams up for spectacular achievement this year – if you take action on them now and in this order: