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  • This is an interesting topic, one that doesn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer. I think praise, appropriately and meaningfully applied, can be very effective. But, I’ve also learned that you need to learn how to praise yourself, recognize and acknowledge your own successes, because others will not always notice or recognize your achievements. It’s important for you to.

    I was raised in an environment where praise and attention did not come easily. The first time I remember praise having any impact on me was when I was trying to lick my bed-wetting problem. We’d tried every seeming solution, and progress was slow in coming. Finally, when the shrink they’d sent me to when I was 9, after weeks of me going in there and listening to him talk about all kinds of crap that I had no idea what relevance it had to my situation, he asked me to talk about what I was interested in (note to Shrink: try having that conversation on the first visit, next time). I of course launched into my favorite topic, baseball. I told him all about the wonderful world of baseball statistics that I had just recently discovered, batting averages, earned run averages, winning percentages. Our discussion then focused on winning percentages. I explained to him how it worked. He suggested I keep my winning percentage on bed-wetting. Track it. Set a goal and then try to achieve it. Brilliant.

    Of course, my ultimate goal was a 1.000 percentage. But, we broke it down, and where I started out at about .500, we shot for .650, then .750, then .800. My praise came when I achieved a goal. It didn’t come from anywhere else but my own satisfaction at having accomplished the goal that I had set. It felt like I was taking control of my own life. I was accomplishing something. It was put into a language and a reference that was meaningful to me. So much more value than some hollow praise from someone else’s frame of reference that would have meant nothing to me.

    Dad tried to praise me at times for my efforts in sports. I appreciated the attention – I didn’t get it often from him, only because he was too busy trying to feed a large family, and there were so many of us, it was understandably hard to keep up with us all. Plus, by the time I came along, it was hard for a parent to get excited about things that had already been done 5 times before. But, once he came to watch me play football. He praised my courageous play, as I stood in there against guys bigger than me, and took whatever they dished out and threw myself right in there without fear. He thought that was remarkable and took the time to let me know what he thought after the game.

    But, he couldn’t win with me. I didn’t take his praise as very “informed”. I knew what I didn’t do - as the Defensive End, I knew about the quarterback who’d gotten around me when I had taken the bait on a fake hand-off up the middle, left my position and gave up a touchdown run, so I dismissed his praise as not counting. I did appreciate his effort, though, and the rare moment of his attention, on my turf. I can only remember 2 times growing up where I felt like he was able to take the time to notice me in my own world. Those 2 times stand out brightly in my memory of growing up. It meant a lot.

    Dad more than made up for it later on, when I was an adult struggling to make my way in the world, to find my niche, make my mark. Dad paid a lot more attention to me, and praised my efforts as a parent, and in the work world. It meant a great deal to me at that time to have his praise and attention.

    For the first 16 years of my current career, I had bosses who weren’t big on praise. I learned to be motivated by my own expectations, and set bars higher and higher for myself. While I didn’t get heaped upon with praise, I kept managing to get promoted, as I demonstrated the ability and a reputation for getting the job done. After that, most of my bosses were a lot better at showing recognition in meaningful ways (i.e., awards and bonuses), but that is not what motivates me. It is always appreciated, but never expected.

    As a manager and a leader in my organization, I don’t exactly heap praise on people, but I try to personally let them know, in meaningful ways, when they demonstrate excellence in their performance. I find that most people respond very favorably to this form of praise. Just knowing that someone above has noticed their effort. When it comes to awards, I also try to make them something that will be meaningful to the individual. Money is always nice, but when there isn’t much of that available to demonstrate appreciation, there are many other ways to recognize excellence.

    The key to praise, from my experience, is that it has to be timely, and relevant, in order to be effective. I am not a cheerleader, and I don’t respond well to people who try to cheer lead me. It just never feels “genuine”, and sometimes actually feels condescending.

    Photo: “The King” helping to make an award presentation at a Board meeting in Las Vegas (me behind the mask!  )
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