Creating a Powerful Acknowledgement

The biggest mistake a leader can make is taking too much credit. In fact, a good leader makes sure others receive credit. The people who most quickly gain trust, loyalty, excitement and energy in an organization are those who pass the credit to the people who have actually done the work. When someone is in the Drama Triangle, they seek out ways to look good, and this often occurs at someone else’s expense. Taking credit for others’ work is a quick way to erode trust. One fundamental for quality communication is powerful acknowledgment. In business, there is typically so much focus on results, that once one result is achieved, people just move on to the next one. You need to create a culture that produces maximum performance and outstanding achievement, and then these achievements need to be recognized and celebrated so that you can maintain that culture.

Here are the three steps to creating a powerful acknowledgment.

Step 1: Specifics
Powerful acknowledgment is one way to celebrate achievements. Powerful acknowledgment starts with being specific about what it is a person did well. In other words, you wouldn’t just say, “Good job.” You would say, “You know, yesterday during your presentation when you were talking about the relationship of productivity to accountability, you made it so clear, and your presentation made such a great impact on the group.” Make your acknowledgment specific to what that person did. Especially in a highly technical area, your peers are often the only ones who can appreciate what went into a particular project. Being very specific about what you are acknowledging will make it easier for the other person to feel appreciated.

Step 2: Impact
The second step is to let the person know how his or her action impacted you. You want to communicate how you felt when they accomplished the activity you are acknowledging.

Step 3: Difference
A basic human value is knowing that you have made a difference. Your team members want to know they have made a difference. This desire is the reasoning behind the third step in acknowledgment – letting the other person know they made a difference to you. Let that person know you are looking forward to working with them in the future, and what a difference their accomplishment will make to the company, to the business, and to the team.

Overall, acknowledgment needs to be authentic. Acknowledgment for acknowledgment’s sake doesn’t hit the mark. Remember, about 93% of all communication is how you say your words and what you do with your body. If you don’t truly feel what it is you’re saying, it’s going to register as, “Something is wrong here”, or “It wasn’t quite a real acknowledgment.” Acknowledgment, especially, needs to be congruent, truly felt, and sincere in order to be effective. For example, compliments and praise can be a way of saying thank you, or conversely can be given in the hopes of getting something in return. People can instantly sense the difference in motives.

No matter how practiced a leader’s style, behavior exhibited in an attempt to get something in return will appear manipulative. Manipulation erodes trust and undermines the development of relationships. “Catch people doing something right,” we have been told. Rarely have we been asked to think about why. Do we believe that by praising people we will get more work out of them, or do we praise people because we want to support them? The difference is everything. Because leadership takes place between human beings, successful leadership requires an in-depth knowledge of people. Where we have quality relationships, we also find a complete sense of achievement. Again, people are not computers, so when you lead, feelings will be involved. You will often be leading the same people on a regular basis. Use acknowledgment on a regular basis so that people don’t think that you are just acknowledging them because you want something from them. In fact, handling relationships needs to be a full-time process.

How to Acknowledge

Thank the person for what he or she did. Make your acknowledgment specific so they are not left guessing.

Tell them the impact they had on you personally.

Identify the difference this person’s contribution will make in the future to you, the team, and/or the organization.

Charlie Sheppard is President of Sheppard Partners, Inc., a company on the forefront of next-generation behavioral assessment technologies. Sheppard Partners is an organizational development consulting company that focuses its efforts on helping organizations create high performance cultures. He brings experience in organizational development, specializing in the assessment, design, and delivery of development programs with an emphasis on strategic alignment, leadership development, team development, and negotiation skills. By developing innovative technologies and delivering creative solutions, Sheppard Partners is an active partner in the selection process, in the creation of effective teams, and in ongoing organizational development. Charlie coordinates the activities of Sheppard Partners consultants and serves the firm as the lead developer of assessment technologies and courseware.

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