How to give powerful positive feedback

 Eight tips on how to say

“Thanks!” or “Good job!”

“Josh” was general counsel of a federal agency. He came to coaching after a staff survey helped him realize that many of the lawyers working for him felt under-appreciated. And they had real concerns about his leadership style.

Josh’s initial reaction was defensive and disdainful.   He said, “Grown-up lawyers shouldn’t expect to be thanked just for doing excellent work. They get paid, don’t they? And when I don’t comment they should know everything is OK, because I always tell them when they screw up.”

We spoke about the human need to be acknowledged and appreciated. And I pointed to numerous studies demonstrating that people will be more productive in a positive work environment.

Eventually Josh agreed to try an experiment. Every workday he put three coins in his pocket. Each time he thanked or complimented a team member he could remove one coin. And he couldn’t go home until all three were gone.

After the first week, Josh said he was enjoying the experiment more than he had expected. But he still felt awkward saying “thanks,” so he was looking for more occasions to practice. He found times to say “thank you” at home, in the coffee shop, and wherever he went on the weekend.

The more Josh practiced, the more comfortable he felt offering thanks and positive feedback. And he was having fun with it. He said, “the amazing thing is not that it makes them happy, but that it makes me happy, too.” Soon he quit carrying the coins because he no longer needed them. Josh said he was addicted to his “thank you” habit, and it had changed the way he looked at several parts of his life.

great job stampWell-crafted words of thanks and praise can serve as powerful positive reinforcement, guiding members of your team to achieve, change and grow. By regularly thanking or acknowledging people for their work, you can help to shape a more positive and collaborative office environment, even if you’re not the boss.

These eight tips can help build your “thank you” habit into a powerful leadership tool:

  1. Be sincere. Disingenuous flattery doesn’t work. It sounds creepy and seldom fools people — at least not for long. Get in touch with your sense f gratitude when you express thanks, and speak honestly about how you feel.
  2. Be specific. A vague, casual “thanks” isn’t nearly as effective as a more detailed comment. After saying “good job,” add more particulars, like, “I particularly appreciated the way you involved other team members.” Precise comments not only carry more impact but also provide powerful reinforcement for the performance you want to encourage.
  3. Fully engage. Part of the power of saying “thank you” comes from the fact that you care enough to focus on another person. Get full value from the thanks exchange by making eye contact and listening carefully to any response.
  4. Notice what’s taken for granted. If we maintain a high level of performance, our colleagues may assume it’s just normal and cease to notice it. Then it feels especially good if someone recognizes how hard we’ve worked to keep up the pace. When you express appreciation to a valuable team member, make it clear that you understand what goes into their high standards and good results.
  5. Calibrate your “thank you.” Elaborate kudos in response to some little thing may seem fake and can be embarrassing. And too little gratitude for a huge effort can feel insulting. The tone and style of your tribute should be commensurate with the good work you’re calling out. A casual email can be enough to make somebody feel appreciated for a routine task. But a face-to-face encounter is more appropriate if they pulled out all the stops.
  6. Write. Don’t forget the power of a hand-written note. It still feels good when another person takes the time to sit down and write about what we’ve done.
  7. Be surprising. Formalized praise, such as during an annual review, is important, but it’s not enough. And, over time, routine assessments feel ho-hum, no matter how positive they may be. To show you mean it, express your gratitude or admiration when it’s not expected.
  8. Be quick. Offer your commendation as soon as possible after the activity that inspired it. Words of thanks and approval (like other feedback) have more impact right after we’ve done the work.

One value of the “thank you” habit is what it does for you. When you regularly look for opportunities to express appreciation, you are more likely to focus on and support the values and activities that matter most. And research suggests that taking the time to feel grateful can actually reduce your anxiety. Saying kind words to others can feel very good, and sometimes hearing their response can feel even better.

Read more about how to create change by saying “thank you.” And try these tips on how to respond when someone else has praised you.

Image: (c) Fotolia mediterranean

Posted in business etiquette, leadership, motivation, positivity

How to be a true professional

Build characteristics shared by

the very best professionals 

“Bob,” my coaching client, had recently changed jobs and was unsure about his new team. He said about his staff, “They’re great. Really good people. They have a lot of skills. But, somehow, they’re not real professional.”

Bob liked his new team members and believed they had potential. But, while he couldn’t put his finger on why, he felt the team’s performance was less than it could be. As he thought about his first year goals, the challenge he took up was to help his team become “more professional.”

As a serious careerist like Bob, you want to be supported by people who are highly “professional.” And, of course, you want others to regard you as a true professional. But just what does that mean?

What is a “professional”?

proThe meaning of the term “professional” has shifted in recent decades.
The traditional professions included doctors, lawyers, architects and other experts who were specially educated, usually licensed and often relatively well-paid.

But today’s definition is much broader. The word can describe anybody who is seriously engaged in meaningful, challenging work. Professionals are found in myriad fields, from IT to the culinary arts, but all workers aren’t professional.

Knowledge can set professionals apart. Today’s professionals are committed to building their skills and expertise regardless of whether they have specific degrees or certifications.

In addition to continuing their education, professionals strive to maintain quality and ethical standards. They believe their work is valuable. And they expect more from their careers than just financial compensation. They want satisfaction, some sense of identity and community, and the opportunity to make a contribution.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

Just because you have a professional type job doesn’t mean others will regard you as highly “professional.” Read more ›

Posted in Career management, leadership, professional advancement, professional growth Tagged with: ,

The puzzle of career women who hesitate

 Why are professional women

still hitting a glass ceiling?

Lately I keep finding myself in conversations about how a surprising number of women aren’t moving confidently into leadership within their careers. I’ve heard some worries from my executive coaching clients, but often the topic has come up at social or business events.

For me it’s a puzzle: why is it that so many terrific professional women are still struggling with issues we thought we’d be able to put to rest back in the 80s and 90s?

This doesn’t seem to be just an us-against-them, women-versus-men thing. I’ve heard insightful men express concern that too few women are reaching their full professional potential. For example, two male professors recently asked me why their star female students seem to have lower job aspirations than their less qualified male classmates?

And in recent months, both at formal industry conferences and in casual chats, some of the most accomplished American women journalists have been talking about how leading newsrooms still seem to be dominated by a male culture. This seems to be the case, in both print and digital realms, despite the fact university journalism programs often have more women than men students.

Also, disturbingly, young women in several career discussions this spring told me they feel more threatened than supported by women who are senior to them in their organizational hierarchies. They look to men and generational peers, they said, want they want mentoring.

Part of the problem may relate back to those of us who were among the early women to enter many professions. I was the first woman in Ohio University’s MBA program in the 1970s. And later I joined the first big wave of women who went to Georgetown Law School, and then on to Washington law firms. It was wonderful and exciting, but sometimes it was frightening as well. And the experience left scars.

Even where there was no hazing or explicit double standard, it could be exhausting and bewildering to join male teams where we weren’t really wanted. As a result, despite years of achievement, some “old girls” still experience surprising lapses in confidence. It can show up in little ways, such as: Read more ›

Posted in glass ceiling, professional advancement, women leaders Tagged with:

How to sustain a thriving career!

Things going well for you? 

Build on that winning streak!

RES CAREER Have you noticed that some people can go from success to success, while others stumble fairly quickly, then seem to spend more time down     than up? Of course luck can help, but the people who keep landing on their feet tend to have something in common. The perennial winners don’t take success for granted — they keep hustling, even in the good times.

In work, as in life, things usually are either getting better or getting worse. It’s the like that for organizations as well as for people. Nothing    stays the same for long. So when things are going well, savvy careerists don’t just sit back and let the good times roll.

Just as you must take action in order to break out of a downward spiral, it’s smart to support your momentum when it’s already positive. If you are looking for ways to perpetuate success, in your own career or at the place where you work, consider these strategies: Read more ›

Posted in Career management, career success, managing progress, positivity, professional growth Tagged with:

Be ready to brag when opportunity knocks

Prepare for opportunities by

tracking your achievements

goodworkWhat if a headhunter calls today with an interesting job possibility? Can you quickly show that you’re an ideal candidate?  Or what if a new boss or client has questions about how you’ve been using your time?

Sometimes new opportunities or unexpected challenges pop up fast. But when you’re asked to quickly explain what you’ve been doing on the job, you might not be prepared to gracefully describe your achievements.  Some people even go blank when asked to talk about what they’ve done lately.

To keep moving ahead in your career, there are times when you must know how to describe where you’ve been.  Even if you’re happily entrenched in a job that feels secure, on occasion you’ll need to demonstrate your worth.  Perhaps you’ll want to go after a raise or promotion, or to show that you’re ready to take on a juicy assignment. Read more ›

Posted in Career management, Job seeking, professional advancement, professional growth Tagged with: ,

Enrich your job by leading upward!

To add more value at work,

find ways to lead your bosses.

thumb_leadingupwardAs an executive coach, I’ve noticed that, while leadership styles vary considerably, the best leaders have attributes in common.  For example, they all tend to have integrity, strong value systems and a genuine desire to do the right thing.

The leaders I most admire are consistently willing to step forward and serve, even if a task is menial or unlikely to lead to recognition. And their influence over other people extends in all directions.  In other words, not only are they adept at managing their direct reports, but also they are able to guide other colleagues and collaborators.

Some of the strongest leaders exercise a special skill.  They are able to lead upward, influencing their bosses to make better decisions and become more effective. For example, there’s a client I’ll call “Sam,” who didn’t expect to rise beyond his role as the VP of communications. He had five years until retirement, and he wanted during that time to contribute even more to the company he loved. Read more ›

Posted in Career management, leadership, professional growth, Uncategorized Tagged with:

7 strategies for building executive presence

 Want a powerful presence?

Work through this checklist!

A question I often hear from coaching clients is, “How do I get executive presence?” The question is tricky because “executive presence” isn’t easily defined.  Sure, there’s widespread agreement that leaders need it and great leaders have it.  But it’s not so simple to deconstruct the elements. 

Your definition may be based on a leader you actually know, who has great presence.  Someone who exudes confidence and energy, and who attracts other people like a magnet.

Presents. Photo (c) Kenishirotie via fotolia

Presents. Photo (c) Kenishirotie via fotolia

 Sometimes the value of executive presence seems most obvious when it’s missing.  I’m thinking of a brilliant corporate attorney I’ll call “Ed.” He repeatedly was passed over when spots opened up within the company’s management ranks. When I asked the COO whether Ed was likely to be promoted, she said, “No. He’ll always be valued as a talented technical lawyer, but we’re not going to move him up.  Ed just doesn’t have executive presence.” 

The COO didn’t try to define “executive presence,” but I knew what she meant.  The attorney could write memos like a dream, but when asked a question he seemed hesitant.  He’d mumble, then he’d shuffle down the hall.  He just didn’t have “It.”  He didn’t radiate that confidence, that dignity, that sense of control that others see as “executive presence.”

Do you sometimes worry that you don’t have enough of that “It” factor?  Do you fear you’ll miss out on career opportunities, despite your great work, because you lack a powerful presence? Read more ›

Posted in career resilience, leadership, professional growth Tagged with: , ,

If leading a committee is like herding cats.

Leading peers is tricky.

But these tips will help.

Do you know how to run a committee in a way that gets thing done? Or to direct a work group when you don’t really have a boss’s authority?

Much of the work getting done in today’s organizations comes from fostering collaboration among people whose goals aren’t quite the same But whether you’re brainstorming a startup with entrepreneurial pals, or serving as counsel to a blue ribbon panel, leading folks who don’t report to you can be frustrating.

Sherry Little of Spartan Solutions.

Sherry Little of Spartan Solutions.

Sherry Little, a founding partner at the infrastructure firm Spartan Solutions, knows that leading across functional and organizational lines can feel like herding cats.  But, she says, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you learn how to build and manage diverse teams.

Little’s company develops and administers large infrastructure projects, which often means fostering public-private partnerships to build things like subway systems, trolley lines, or ferries.  Little learned political skills as a senior staffer in the U.S. Senate, where crafting transportation legislation required negotiating across party lines.  Later, before the formation of Spartan in 2009, Little led the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

When I asked her to share her favorite strategies for building an effective team, Little offered four tips: Read more ›

Posted in committees, leadership, team leadership Tagged with: ,

If you’re wondering “what’s next?”

Ready for a career shift?

Read Kerry Hannon’s tips.

 Are you thinking about a launching a new career, but don’t know where to start?  Then here’s good news.  Acclaimed journalist Kerry Hannon has just released a revised paperback edition of her book, What’s Next? – Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond.”

 Since 2006, Hannon has been writing in leading publications about “Second Acts,” the new careers that many of us are launching in our later years.  Hannon knows as much about this trend as anyone around. And, while she certainly understands the data on jobs trends, she developed much of her understanding firsthand, through hundreds of interviews with people, aged 40 to 70+, who have made big shifts in their work lives.

In “What Next?” Hannon offers portraits of 17 people who have chosen new paths.  For example, there’s Ken Rynne, a Washington energy lawyer who decided to live his dream and become a professional performer.  He launched Planet Washington, a rollicking musical act featuring timely political satire.  And there’s a clinical nurse who opened a knitting store, an AT&T executive who became an Episcopal priest, and a former IT specialist who is now a licensed acupuncture therapist specializing in fertility issues

Kerry Hannon with Zena

Kerry Hannon with Zena.

 The individual profiles are both inspiring and instructional, but the book is made even richer by Hannon’s insights, lists of resources, and specific advice about how to change your career.  And, while the book’s personal stories tend to involve people who are reinventing their work lives to pursue new passions or long-held dreams, the book is a useful guide for anybody considering a significant job shift.

 While Hannon touches upon everything from the value of volunteering to the ABCs of franchising, one theme she emphasizes is the power of networking.  She points out that the years you’ve spent years building up a circle of contacts can translate into a rich opportunity.

 I also particularly like Hannon’s suggestion that you prepare for your transition with a three-part fitness program: Read more ›

Posted in Career management, career transitions, encore careers, Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,

Bored at work? Make new choices!

Boredom isn’t productive.

So make some changes!

As I waited in a Post Office line, I watched the clerk.  She looked to be so deep into the doldrums that she could barely hear her customers. It seemed that, when she finally took in a request, she’d move in slow motion, lethargically searching through stacks of paper with her eyes half closed and her mouth half open.

As the minutes ticked on, I became annoyed.  Then I thought, “Oh, I’d hate to have her job.”  So I was feeling more empathetic when it was finally my turn.  By then, nobody was behind me in line, so I engaged her in conversation. 

I said I needed to mail my passport for renewal, and led her into a discussion about the safest way to send it.  I made a big deal about my worries, and soon she was lending me a pen and making gentle fun of my concerns.  And we were laughing together. 

The clerk may have been overwhelmed by the monotony of her job.  But she seemed to wake up when she connected with, and focused on the needs of, another person.  Shifting your attention to somebody else’s problems is a classic way to beat back boredom.

Photo of boards, by

Photo of boards, by

You know what it’s like to feel bored, don’t you?  When nothing seems challenging, and gradually you feel less and less creative?  When you’re bored, you might be keeping busy, and yet you’re not getting enough stimulation to stay interested.

On the job, unproductive boredom seems to be the opposite of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called “flow.” You’re in flow when your work is so absorbing you lose track of time. It’s like you are playing a game that is so much fun you forget about everything else.

Csikszentmihalyi, who has been studying the satisfying flow state for decades, describes it as a time when “action follows upon action according to an internal logic that seems to need no conscious intervention by the actor.”

You are more likely to find yourself in flow, and not bored, when: Read more ›

Posted in professional growth, Uncategorized, workplace issues Tagged with: ,

Beverly E. Jones

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
Senior Entrepreneurship Works - Website
Congressional Management Foundation - Website
WOUB - Website
ShadowComm LLC - Website

Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

What’s Next? Find Your Passion and Your Dream Job in You Forties, Fifties and Beyond

“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”

Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs

Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm