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How to Give Meaningful Praise (Without Overdoing It)

By Frank Blake

I love hearing from listeners. Recently someone reached out to us on Facebook and asked:

I've just listened to the latest podcast with David Novak and had a follow-up question. I've had a variety of different bosses during my professional career, and most have very different standards for recognition.

I'm curious what you would say about leaders who seem to praise everything everyone does, to the point where that recognition loses its meaning (at least to me it does). Everything is "amazing," "outstanding," "great," and "incredible."

I've always been the type of person who reserves that high praise for instances where people truly go above and beyond what they were asked to do.

I'm curious to get your thoughts on how to be better at recognizing others while not diminishing the sincerity of one's most heartfelt praise.

My Take On Recognition

"Recognition," in my mind, is very different from "praise everything." Proper recognition needs to be two things:

1. Purposeful

In a business context, a leader ought to know the attributes/actions that he/she wants to encourage. There needs to be discipline and pattern behind the recognition.

A leader should be able to say "Here is what I'm trying to encourage;" and — just as importantly — he or she needs to stick to that.

Recognition that lacks purpose, as you rightly point out, becomes meaningless.

2. Specific

Too often recognition consists of a general statement like "good job." That's better than nothing…but only by a bit.

The reasons to make recognition specific (telling the story or example that prompted the recognition) are:

  • The recognition is more authentic to the recipient (as it indicates to the person that you really saw and understood what they did)
  • The praise becomes more memorable for the rest of the audience

After all, within an organization, recognition is not only thanking someone who did something positive. You are also describing the example of what you want from the rest of the team.

If your recognition is vague or generic, you've lost the power of it.

The leader who praises everything indiscriminately is wasting his or her most precious resource.

I'd like to thank listener Ryan Braddy for the great question! If you're reading this and have a question, just reach out and ask.

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