Affirming or Depriving? How Do You Lead?

I worked for managers who found it difficult to express praise or appreciation to their subordinates.  I also shared leadership styles with fellow leaders and found those that would argue with my style.  Keeping their employees off balance or in the dark would enhance their performance they would contend.

I would hear the stories of all the worry, the complaining, and the fear of being written up and even losing their jobs.  If only there were a way to measure how much productivity an organization loses by the time spent lamenting with colleagues of their fears and frustration.  How much more productivity would the organization benefit if the employees received some affirmation of their efforts.

Directors, managers, and supervisors should read Nicolό Machiavelli’s book The Prince.  It is a classic written in the sixteenth century issuing strong warnings regarding using fear as a motivator.  Fear works as long as you have power.  Should you lose even a minimal amount of authority subordinates will “chew you up and spit you out.”  All because no relationship, respect or admiration was fostered by the leader.

Then there are those leaders who feel only a small amount of “patting one on the back” is sufficient for quality performance and productivity.  Psychology refers to this as the partial reinforcement effect.  A typical experiment in psychology is for rats to obtain food by pressing a button or some lever.  Science has finds that a rat that is only fed randomly when hitting the button will persevere and keep hitting the button longer than a rat that is fed all the time when hitting the button.  The always fed rat will quit sooner when not rewarded food.

Of course, people are not rats.  Expecting to offer minimal affirmation is probably acceptable for those who work assembly line and are not the brightest people in the organization.  Those who are paid to think, to create, and to implement new ideas will likely turn away from their jobs and seek other ways to satisfy their needs for appreciation and gratitude.

Some fellow managers confided in me that they feel awkward in giving praise.  Others say it makes them feel weak.  Then there are those who give affirmation to their productive and successful employees on a regular basis.

It is time to be genuine.  Should you feel that a subordinate is worthy of praise, then express it.