Providing Emotional Nourishment


There are realities we all share, regardless of our nationality, language or individual tastes. As we need food, so do we need emotional nourishment: love, kindness, appreciation and support from others.” ~ J.Donald Walters


When someone is a senior leader in an organization, you would expect that they know what they need to do, have the self confidence to understand when they are on the right path, and be perfectly independent, not requiring any sort of “atta-boys or girls” to sustain them. Yet the most common thing that I hear from leaders in the world of overwhelm they work in is that they are hungry to be recognized and thanked for the work they do.

Receiving a paycheck and bonuses isn’t enough. An annual performance appraisal isn’t enough. We are all hungry for the connection, dialog, and the feedback that we don’t often receive at work – senior leaders are no exception, despite the fact that we may believe otherwise. When the door is closed and my clients are assured that trust exists between us, I hear that they need to be nourished by the managers they rarely see.

It’s the small things that feed others. When properly nourished, your staff will put out the effort you expect, stay on the right path, and do as you do. Some ideas:

Engage them in conversation. It doesn’t always have to be about work. A simple appreciative question, plainly asked and listened to (“What did you enjoy doing over the weekend?” or “What do you like best about the work that you do?”) can go a long way.

Notice what they do well. “Expecting” others to do well isn’t enough and noticing it can rarely be overdone. “I noticed how well you led that meeting” or “I noticed the courage it took for you to speak up on that issue” will instill confidence.

Celebrate milestones on the path to greatness. Your team is working hard, and it would be a shame to let the small successes go without commemorating them in some way. Ask them what they’d like to do to (perhaps with some guidelines) as a team, follow through with the best idea, and invite the team to celebrate together.

Coach your staff on their development plans. This requires time and effort, but will pay off greatly over the long term – for them and for you. Schedule regular meetings to help them to create and take action on their development plans separate from the annual performance appraisal.

Feedback your criticisms firmly but with kindness. Do it regularly. The best of your staff are craving to know if they are off track before it’s too late. My favorite feedback tool (because it’s memorable) is Situation (describe what happened as close to the event as possible), Behavior (describe the behavior you observed), Impact (describe the impact on you/the organization). Use it well and often.

We can no longer deny that emotions exist in the workplace and that people crave nourishment. Why not feed and appreciate them (out loud) more often?


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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