All bosses are human! They are just as susceptible to self-doubts as anyone else. And they all share with us one of the deepest desires in human nature – the need to feel important, to receive a compliment, to be appreciated. That’s why so many bosses and chief executives like having ‘yes men’ around them!
As subordinates, most of us crave appreciation and encouragement from our boss, a ‘parent’ figure in our life. Unfortunately, research shows that few bosses give the due recognition and praise that we desire (the subject of my Kindle book on employee recognition), and we have to bear with that unfortunate fact of life.
But do we ever think of reciprocating? Do we ever give compliments or ‘active encouragement’ to the boss on their achievements, even small achievements? Even unapproachable or difficult bosses are human. And perhaps you may have been looking at your boss from ‘the glass is half empty’ point of view, rather than from ‘the glass is half full’ point of view. Giving appreciation to your boss is a leadership attribute and is therefore a valuable skill for you to develop.
Try this exercise – give one compliment to your boss every day when you encounter him or her in the next week, starting next Monday. Document what you did and the response. Continue this procedure for the rest of the week and extend it to a second week, and a third week and so on until it becomes habit. You can think of something small beforehand or be spontaneous in discussion with them, but make sure you do offer a compliment, even on a small thing such as what they are wearing. And make sure to tactful about giving the compliment, offering it in an authentic and natural-sounding way. If you don’t have daily contact with your boss, save up the compliments until you see them face-to-face, you can email them short notes of appreciation or give your appreciation over the phone. Your appreciation can be the act of passing on a positive comment that someone else has made. The bonus with this is not only the boss reacting well to you, but also they will be more appreciative towards the person you heard giving the praise about your boss.
If you offer regular and genuine compliments to your boss, you will find the impact is cumulative – your relationship will become progressively more positive. But the compliments have to be genuine. Positive remarks about another person’s attitude or performance reliably increase liking in return, and more likely cooperation from them. This works even when flattery is used, according to social psychology Professor Robert Cialdini in his Harvard Business Review article, “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” However, people quickly realize when you are faking it, especially if your relationship has been a bit rocky until now. And don’t overdo the compliments or your boss may suspect your motives. A positive response may not come straight away – your boss may be unaccustomed to receiving appreciation from you and may feel awkward at first about it. And don’t give a compliment in the expectation of receiving one in return. Most people are unused to giving compliments and are not good at it.
If you feel awkward about starting with your boss, you can start with someone closer to you such as your spouse, other members of your family or peers at work. Some of the best leaders have attributed their success largely to the way they are quick to praise and slow to criticize. This approach to life motivates others and raises their enthusiasm. If you adopt this approach with all the people in your life, you will find yourself to be a great source of encouragement and leadership to those around you.
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