The Other Most Powerful Phrase In Leadership

I’ve written before about The Most Powerful Phrase In Leadership.  Now I’d like to discuss the Other Most Powerful Phrase In Leadership, a simple phrase that is critically important to leadership and to an organization.  The phrase is:  Thank you.

This phrase, like its predecessor, just isn’t used enough by leaders.   And that’s too bad, because saying “thank you” is a sure way to build Trust.

My Trust model has four elements:  Consistency, Listening/Flexibility, Performance Accountability, and Respect.  One of the best ways to display respect for other is recognition.

Recognition means acknowledging people’s accomplishments, and I’m amazed at how often organizations score very low in recognition.

In organizational surveys I use, employees will say that recognition for a job well done is very important.  Yet, those employees often say that the organization does a poor job of recognition.

The easiest way to recognize people for a job well done is to say “Thank you.”  Some leaders really have a hard time with this.  And, it seems the higher up a leader is, the less likely the leader will use this phrase.

They say indignantly, “Why should I thank people for doing what I’m paying them to do?”  My response is, “You shouldn’t.  Unless you want them to continue doing a good job.  In that case, you’d better show some appreciation.”

Lack of appreciation can really have an adverse affect on employee morale and productivity.  I see it all the time.  I hear, “We never see our VP when things are going well, but if we mess up once, he’s in our faces ranting like a lunatic.”  Sound like someone you know?

Saying “Thank you” is an example of giving recognition, and sometimes, a simple “thank you” is enough.  But “thank you” is also a form of positive feedback.  I define positive feedback as what we communicate to others when we want them to repeat a particular behavior.

When we’re trying to get people to repeat behavior, we need more than just “thank you.”  We need a more structured approach. Here are 4 steps for giving positive feedback:

1) Express an emotion you’re feeling because of the behavior (happy, proud, impressed, thrilled, etc.);

2) Describe in very specific terms what the person did (not just “good job” but what was good about it);

3) Say why it’s important that he or she did it that way;

4) Express appreciation.

Here’s how it might look:  “Ann, I’m just thrilled that you followed up with that irate customer, kept your cool, and made her happy, because that’s the kind of customer service we want to be known for.  I really appreciate your extra effort.”

It’s simple, but powerful.  And that third step, saying why the behavior was important, is an excellent opportunity to show the connection between the person’s performance or behavior, and your organization’s purpose or mission.

We as leaders should be doing this often, because people who feel appreciated and recognized are more engaged in their work, more committed to company goals, and more productive in what they do.

But, it’s especially important when trying to get people to change their behavior.  Once they’ve changed (improved) their behavior, saying thanks is a way of reinforcing that change, and increasing the likelihood that they will repeat the behavior.

I’ve seen situations where someone will say, “Look, the head of accounting messed up again by sending this info late.  He always does this, and it really causes problems for us.”

I’ll say, “Why don’t you talk to him, and explain how it causes problems?”  Answer:  “It won’t do any good.”  Me:  “How do you know?”  “Because I’ve tried that and nothing changes.”  Me:  “Nothing, no improvement at all?”

“Well, things improve at first, but then go back to same problem.”  Me:  “And when it did improve, what did you do?”  “Nothing.”  Me:  “Nothing?  Did you go and thank him for changing things, for doing what you had asked?”  “No. Should I have?”

I think so.

If you want to improve morale and productivity, try using the other most powerful phrase in leadership.  Try saying, “Thank you.”

And while I’m at it, I’d like to thank YOU for reading my articles, and for providing feedback about them.  I do appreciate it.

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