Are You an Appreciative Leader?

Susan S Freeman Blog

The following is a repost of my article for Conscious Shift Magazine.

With the start of November, thankfulness and appreciation are on our minds—more than usual. I’ve just returned from leading a two-day leadership team for a client in the Midwest. The team was engaged in an intensive day of co-creating; vision, core values, goals and timelines. There was a sense of newfound purposefulness, energy, and commitment to moving forward together. Before wrapping up, I always ask participants “what is the difference you make to this team?” This question can be provocative and empowering. Participants reflect for themselves and on their colleagues. They feel valued, and value others. We focus on appreciation—for each other, for the team, and for what they choose to do together moving forward.

According to the Harvard Business Review, (1/23/12),  research shows that the single highest driver of engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson, is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Less than 40 percent of workers felt so engaged. For leaders at any level, this should be a wake-up call!

We all know that feeling genuinely appreciated is a plus—we are energized and expansive, free to engage in things that showcase our best work. Yet what often takes place in American companies is that appreciation comes across as inauthentic. Why is this?

The obvious answer is that we’re not fluent in the language of positive emotions in the workplace. We’re so unaccustomed to sharing them that we don’t feel comfortable doing so. Heartfelt appreciation is a muscle we’ve not spent much time building, or felt encouraged to build.

Oddly, we’re often more experienced at expressing negative emotions — reactively and defensively, and often without recognizing their corrosive impact on others until much later, if we do at all.

In one well-known study, workers who felt unfairly criticized by a boss or felt they had a boss who didn’t listen to their concerns had a 30 percent higher rate of coronary disease than those who felt treated fairly and with care.

In the workplace itself, researcher Marcial Losada has found that “among high-performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of 5.6 to 1. By contrast, low-performing teams have a ratio of .36 to 1.”

So what can you as a Step Up Leader do to cultivate appreciation?

  1. Get curious: Inquire about how your employees are feeling. What’s on their mind? What’s in their heart?  What’s their vision for moving forward?
  2. Focus on them: What about them do you value most? What is the difference they make to the team?  If they weren’t there, what would you miss about them?
  3. Let them know: Practice using your appreciation muscle by jotting down a few notes and communicate them often, spontaneously and genuinely.
  4. Know thyself: What are you appreciative of for yourself? When you focus on appreciation, you find more opportunities to be appreciative.
  5. Create a culture of appreciation: As you focus on appreciation as a way of connecting and valuing others, you will foster the spirit of appreciation as a cultural norm.

What you focus on increases. As your focus turns towards appreciation instead of just “performance” or “results,” you may find that the pathway forward that values others will get you there the fastest.

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