Using The Power Of Acknowledgement To Engage Your Employees

Using acknowledgement to empower your employees

The following is a guest piece by author Judith W. Umlas.

Some of you may remember and be familiar with Servant Leadership, which started in the 1980’s and is still practiced by such corporate giants as Southwest Airlines, Aflac and many others. The ground-breaking concept was that leaders should serve their people first and help meet their needs.

But many people feel put off by this concept. Why serve the people you lead when you are the leader? Well, phenomenal results have been demonstrated in the areas of employee engagement, satisfaction and bottom line results.

Similarly, the idea of you as leaders being grateful to your people may put you off a bit at first as well. But you will quickly see the benefits – to you, to your organization and to your people when you start tapping into the fountain of gratitude that exists in each of us, although it may be hidden in the beginning.

So let’s start by considering my definition of a Grateful Leader, which I have put forth in my book, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results. A Grateful Leader is one who sees, recognizes and expresses appreciation for their employees’ and other stakeholders (customers, suppliers, the public, for example) contributions and for their passionate engagement, on an ongoing basis.

Once these leaders allow themselves to feel and express their gratitude, the next step is to take action to acknowledge, support, and engage their people profoundly so that these outcomes can be achieved. These leaders really want to know their employees and other stakeholders as people.

So acknowledgment is truly the foundation of Grateful Leadership and of a culture of appreciation.

And let me also give you my definition of acknowledgment, since it may be different from what you think it is. It is the heartfelt and authentic communication that lets a person know their value to their organization or to their team and the importance of the contribution they make.

One of the tools I use to get actual or aspiring leaders to either tap into their natural ability to give heartfelt, profound, generous and spontaneous acknowledgment, or to become willing to tolerate the awkwardness and discomfort they may feel when they make the attempt to let an employee or other stakeholder know their value, is what I call the 5 Cs.

This tool is incredibly simple – you might even be tempted to call it “simplistic,” but it works wonders for everyone who has tried it. I even have a laminated poster of the 5Cs that many people like to review on a regular basis (if you email me at [email protected] I will send you a downloadable version of it). So let me run through all 5 of them briefly with you, and focus on two: consciousness and courage.

The first C is for Consciousness. We all have acknowledgments floating through our brain numerous times a day. “What wonderful service I just received in this restaurant,” you might say – to yourself. “What incredible value and contribution Shelly brings to our team – we couldn’t achieve the same project success without her insights and actions.” But do you tell Shelly this? Most likely, you don’t.

And you have many reasons for NOT telling her: you don’t want to disrupt her very busy train of thought at the moment you have this heartwarming thought about her. Or you worry that she will think you insincere, or that she might hit you up for a raise. Or, or, or…

We are so creative, we can go on forever with our logical and even possibly valid excuses. But my advice: put those acknowledgment “stoppers” in the trash, and deliver them, even with your considerations. Please remember this: the word acknowledgment has the word “NOW” in it.

Next is Choice – you will always have the choice of delivering the acknowledgment or not. Even after reading this blog post, you can still choose not to, even if I won’t like that and you won’t be as self-expressed and self-actualized (yes, I truly believe that) as you would otherwise be if you did deliver your heartfelt and sincere communication.

The third C is for Courage. Why does it take real, pulse-quickening courage to deliver a simple acknowledgment? Well, I am asking you to do something that for many people is out of their comfort zones, and it is this – to reach into your hearts and to allow yourself to feel the emotion associated with truly valuing another human being.

Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods and one of the eleven Grateful Leaders profiled in my book, said this in his interview:

“When you love what you do and the people with whom you work, you have reason to be grateful. When your business is built from the passion and creativity of your Team Members, you have reason to feel blessed.”

It takes courage to be a Grateful Leader and to give your heartfelt appreciation to all of your stakeholders. You might worry that people will perceive you as “soft.” Walter Robb says he gets “choked up” when he is standing before his people or any large audience and becomes overwhelmed with gratitude for his people, and for the opportunity they help give him to provide the world with healthy food.

What if you get choked up when you tell someone how much they mean to you and to your team and to your entire organization? You will inspire loyalty, commitment and the highest level of performance – that’s what! So you can be afraid and be courageous and do it anyway!

The fourth C is for Communications – how you deliver your acknowledgments is entirely up to you and to how you think your recipient will best receive them. It can be via Skype or skywriting, texting or – what a concept — via a face to face conversation! Any way is a good way!

And the fifth C is for Commitment. Once you see how people light up, stand taller, perform better and with more loyalty and dedication, you will wonder how you ever led a team or a company without open, heartfelt appreciation and acknowledgment. And please take Steven R. Covey’s testimonial to heart:

“… one person can be a change catalyst, a ‘transformer’ in any given situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a tranforming leader.”

Be a transforming and Grateful Leader. This, without a doubt, will use the power of acknowledgment to engage and keep our best people, and achieve superior results. There are many good ideas out there for doing this, and quite a few of them are workable.

But there is simply no substitute for delivering heartfelt and authentic acknowledgments to your stakeholders whenever you see the opportunity and feel they deserve it. So, Go Grateful! Have the courage to learn, the vision to lead, the passion to grow.

Judith W. Umlas is Senior Vice President at International Institute for Learning, Inc.  Her articles have appeared in a number of media outlets, including CNBC, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. She is the author of “Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results”, and the upcoming, anti-bullying book, “The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids”.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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