Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by Dave Blum

Expressing appreciation is absolutely vital in team leadership, and yet, how often do we managers actually do it with our team members?

In his excellent little book, “Building Trust”, Hyler Bracey describes a common leadership myth:

“I have to be competent, confident, firm and tough to get people to follow me…If I demonstrate caring to others, they will see me as weak and take advantage of of me.”

Bracey goes on to argue the opposite–that expressing caring (and appreciation) is a “key component in the development of interpersonal trust.” Assuming this (at least for the purpose of argument) to be true, the question is, How to you do express caring and appreciation in a way that seems sincere and appropriate without being too mushy or “touchy feely”?

In an article by Kevin Sensenig called “Human Potential Untangled”  (Train & Development Magazine, April 2009), the author describes what I think is an excellent, easy-to-follow, format for expressing apreciation, as follows:

1) Tell them what you appreciate about them:  For example, you might say, “Jim, what I really appreciate about you is that your’re an excellent listener.”

2) Give evidence:   The author suggests following up your first statement with something like, “When I discuss a new project with you, you always probe, ask additional questions, and give good feedback.  This tells me that you’re engage in what I’m saying.”

3) Ask an open-ended question:  This final piece of the model is perhaps the most important, and also the most counterintuitive.  Rather than allowing the employee to return the favor and compliment his employer, Sensenig suggests that you immediately ask an open-ended question, such as “How did you develop such good listening skills?”  By so doing, you allow the individual to “talk about experiences and jobs tht have helped him develop his professional character.”  In essence, you’ve kept the attention on the employee, allowing him to explore his skills, appreciate his special abilities, and build on his strengths. Best of all, he’ll know that the point of you expressing appreciation was NOT for you (the manager) to get something in return.

At the end of our Dr. Clue scavenger hunts, we always include team building exercises that allow participants to express appreciation for their teammates’ contributions.

So give the above model a try–it really works.