Acknowledge Effort If You Want To Inspire Persistence

Discouraged Woman EmployeeThis post is my apology to a former and great employee of mine whom I now realize I led very poorly – all the while she worked feverishly to complete an important project for me.

What makes me feel especially guilty about all this is that this employee, Kimberly, at one point really loved working for me.   She routinely called me “MWB,” an acronym for “my wonderful boss,” and did a terrific job.  Not only was the quality of her work generally exceptional, she was ambitious, proactive and got a lot of fantastic things accomplished before ever telling me she had taken them on.

So why would I treat her badly – thereby frustrating her and dampening her spirit more and more in every subsequent interaction?

Impatience.  And more significantly, no acknowledgement of her efforts.

Here’s what happened.   I asked Kim to develop a bank-wide marketing campaign for an important new initiative within our investment services business.   Not knowing exactly what I wanted, I relied on Kim to use her own creativity and propose how best to tackle the task.

Wanting to please me – but uncertain as my expectations – she poured herself into the project and developed a handful of potential options for me to consider.

Perhaps because she hadn’t disappointed me in the past, I went into our meeting together with very high expectations.

Uncharacteristically, however, I disliked everything she presented and here’s where I started to slowly lose the “MWB” moniker.  I offered her no valuable guidance and just asked her to come up with something better.  That was it.  I don’t like it; do better.

No one wants their boss to dislike their work and Kim worked especially hard for me to never find herself in that position.  So, my being unhappy with her proposals was particularly discouraging.

But I also failed to acknowledge all of her effort – to express directly that I knew she had tried really hard to get it right.  And that form of leadership malpractice sent her back to the drawing board far less motivated by the task.

Over a period of weeks, she made new recommendations.  Not surprisingly, she never found the inspiration for the campaign and I grew palpably more impatient and unhappy each time we met.

I could make excuses for handling this all so badly (under stress, many other projects to manage, Seinfeld ended), but the truth is I lost perspective on the situation.

If I could turn back time, what I would have done differently was to have thanked Kim for all the time and effort she put into the initial proposals and to assure her that she still had my confidence.  Thanking people for their effort – particularly when they don’t get immediate results – is the surest way of inspiring the persistence it takes to accomplish a challenging goal.

I forgot that, Kim, and I’m sorry.

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By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.