You Don’t Always Get a Gold Star

Can we overpraise? Is there such a thing as building up our teammates too much? I believe so.

Leaders were never intended to be cheerleaders whose primary role is shouting affirmation and praise from the sidelines, even when the team is down by 30 points. Leaders should be coaches. They encourage, but they also teach, train, strategize, redirect, have frank discussions, and make tough decisions on behalf of the team – all for the good of the team.

Risks and Results of Overpraise

I’ve encountered many leaders over the years whose only coaching method is to heap praise and compliments on their teammates, whether or not they were doing exceptional (or even good) work. When we rely solely on praise to lead, guide and direct our people:

  • We miss opportunities to help them grow. We sidestep having deeper, frank discussions or holding others accountable because we don’t want to be uncomfortable or we’re concerned we might hurt someone’s feelings.
  • We lower standards for performance. You cannot achieve excellence if you consistently reward average.
  • We mislead those who are underperforming. I have known of many employees who were blindsided by poor performance reviews because they received nothing but daily praise and positive feedback from their leaders.

Risks and Results of Under Praise

Now, let’s jump over to the opposite side of the fence – not giving enough praise. I had a client once tell me that he didn’t give a lot of praise because he felt like if he did, his employees would ask for raises.

Well, for a moment, I was speechless! Then, I recovered with my respective rebuttal. I told him that I think encouragement and praise, when deserved, can replace some monetary rewards in a roundabout way. Encouragement helps forge great relationships, and people want to work in an environment where they are appreciated. Many employee surveys have shown that “appreciation for work done” is the overall top motivator for employees, well above pay.

The challenge for us as leaders is to be balanced, intentional, and authentic with our praise and our pay. We can also praise and correct! The two can and should go together.

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  • Jim trunick says:

    Not sure the point here. Praise don’t praise?
    Facts are if we want positive movement in adults
    We need 4 times more praise for every statement
    Of correction – to be perceived as BALANCED in our manager relationships.

    Michael Gottman of Harvard, has done some
    Interesting work on relationships, and we need more praise.
    Praise to support high standards, not lower! Praise as strategy and construct
    For building teams, accountability and organizational over-performance!

    It is not easy! What do you feel when the police visit you
    Or fire dept. visit. Police write citations and catch
    Us doing wrong, plus the helpful things. We are first drawn to” what’s wrong” the fire dept. is perceived to be “helping” and don’t write citations.
    We as managers wear both hats and need improved
    Language and visuals about when we are the police or
    Fire team leader. Marshall goldsmith clarifies how
    We over-correct in the interest of
    Helping and actually hurt people’s commitment and engagement.

    So we get better at praise 4 times more toward their motivations for our team
    And correct 1 time for their safety and course correction ,we got a chance
    To more the leader less the manager.

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Hi Jim! Yes, praise! We should definitely encourage the people on our teams. Leaders need encouragement, too! However there are times when praise isn’t what our teammates need to hear. For example, if I have a person on my team who is under-performing, I don’t need to keep heaping on the praise. I need to have a critical conversation with him. We should definitely praise, but as I noted earlier, we should also teach, train, strategize, and have honest conversations. It’s all about finding the balance. Thank you for your comments!