Friday, January 20, 2012

High Fives

I must admit that I enjoy "giving high fives". That is to say that I enjoy recognizing others for a job well done, and I feel comfortable admitting that doing so is far more satisfying than being on the receiving end. As I reflect upon the recognition I choose to give others, I have come to realize two common themes, the first is deliberate and the second must be subconscious.

On the deliberate side, I am quicker to applaud process than I am result.  In fact, there are times when I overlook a positive result because the means of achieving or the motivation behind it was not especially noteworthy.  As I have been known to say at work, HOW we achieve a result is just as important as THAT we achieve said result.  There have been more than a few occasions where the result was less than desired, but the process used was exceptional.  It is my opinion that too many of us celebrate (or are disappointed by) the result without meaningful consideration of the process used or the intent behind it.  It may be flawed in the eyes of some, but I would rather applaud another for a subpar result of a nobly intended and thoughtfully executed initiative than for a solid result of an action with questionable intention or subpar execution.  I guess that is just another way of saying that I would rather help to slowly build a great team that lasts over time than reenforce the values of a good team that fades before its time.

Secondly, I have come to realize I tend to recognize those who are most likely to deflect the praise.  What I mean by that is I seem to have a subconscious knack for singling out people who are quick to give others the credit for said contribution.  Just last week I did my part to widen the audience for another Officer's  excellent work (by measure of motive, process and result).  In all honesty, part of the rationale behind sharing such work was to plant seeds with others who should consider following his lead (motive and process).  The Officer whom I chose to publicly recognize was the first to diminish his contribution, give others credit, and write it off as business as usual.  The problem is that for too many people it is not business as usual, but I digress.  The fact is that those who seem to contribute the most in my mind are those who are not motivated by praise and don't need the validation of another human being to know they are contributing in meaningful ways.

On the subject of praise, I will share that I received some of the most meaningful praise earlier this week.  It came from my boss in the form of a simple handshake, a sincere thank you, and a genuine request that I "keep doing what (I'm) doing."  To some that might seem like a hollow expression of gratitude.  In fact, I had received a similar message earlier in my career by a different boss and hollow is exactly how I characterized it back then.  I did so because he had no real understanding of what it was that I did and couldn't think of anything specific for which to express gratitude.  This time, my boss has a clear understanding of not only WHAT I and the rest of our team does, but also HOW we go about getting it done.

After thoughtful reflection, I will continue to be deliberate in the recognition given to those who take as much pride (if not more) in the process as the result, for I believe that over the long term the right HOW will consistently deliver the desired WHAT (It all starts with the right culture).  Lastly, the attention I give to others who truly embody Captain Joseph Rochefort's words ("We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit.") will transition from subconscious to intentional.  After all, it is we who share his sentiment who are most likely to be focused just as much on HOW as we are WHAT.

I haven't given recognition enough thought until now, and I am glad I made time to do so. What behaviors do you incentivize with the recognition you give others? How do you react when others attempt (or fail) to recognize your contributions?


  1. I believe that those who truly enjoy giving praise are those who understand what it is like to receive (or not receive) praise. It is clear that you are able to empathize with the praise that you give to others. But praise isn't just a one way street. To receive someone’s praise means that you return them respect by accepting it. I think we purchase respect by praising and praise by respecting.

    We buy things with money, and in the same way, we can buy things with praise. That's assuming you've turned your praise into a valued commodity (doing that is an entirely different discussion). So in a business sense, if you were using your praise as an incentive you would trade your praise for what you thought was acceptable performance; in a moral sense, you would use trade your praise for acceptable character. This is a classic positive reinforcement model that I believe effectively motivates others to achieve higher standards.

    I think your reaction on whether or not you receive outward praise is totally dependent on your motives for/during the "process". We all need praise! The question is whether or not it comes from the outside or inside. Those who are driven by outward praise use the world as a mirror to reflect back who they strive to be inside, which means they are defined by their insecurities requiring a narcissistic reaction. Those who are driven by inward praise are those who are driven by a positive conscience, therefore, your values (good or bad) will become your incentive. Because we are human we are a mix of both inward and outward praise, but a truly effective leader isn’t one who is controlled by outward praise.

    Anyways, that’s my thoughts. This is a very interesting topic that should be discussed further.


  2. Justin Rogers ENS, USN (1170)January 22, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    All the Navy's Integrity Crises actually are Leadership Crises. This blogs sums it up's about the process (motivation, teamwork, initiative, so on and so on...) rather than the result!! We need to move away from the checklist mentality when not in the Engine Room. Hooyah "Connecting the Dots"!!!!

  3. Sean, this philosophy applies throughout life. The power of praise and praising the right thing, the process, is a huge part of parenting as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. It is the words of the presenter prior to reading the documented praise notification (be it an award or positive written counseling) that truly withstands time (as the handshake did for you). The words display a shared caring for [fill in the blank] and a mutual respect for one another. Private praise (in my humble opinion) is twofold more valuable than public praise. Great post!