by Richard Highsmith
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”– Dr. William James
People need… not just want, but need… approval. This is a fundamental principle of human behavior. A three-year-old child demonstrates this principle of human behavior every time he utters the phrase, “Look what I can do,” even when coloring on the walls. The child is saying, “Please approve of me and my creativity, Mom or Dad.”
Psychologist Frederick Herzberg in his 1968 publication “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” proposed humans need to feel “appreciated” and “approved of” at work. His original study sold 1.2 million reprints by 1987 and led him to be recognized as one of the most influential names in the study of business management. Dr. Herzberg found that pay and pleasant working conditions were important, but clearly less important than feeling appreciated at work. He further found mankind is not content with the satisfaction of lower-order needs at work-such as salary levels or safe and pleasant working conditions. Participants in the study reported they were more concerned with attaining the gratifying higher-level psychological needs of achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and the nature of the work itself.
We all need recognition to maximize our potential. Without it we become stagnant and dissatisfied with our work and lives. Theodore Roosevelt clearly defined a leader’s role when he said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
I was teaching a leadership class where a young man named Dan gave me an excellent example of what happens when a manager is an opportunist, managing by intimidation, and stealing the positive light from his people. He described a manager who took credit when his team succeeded but faded to the background when failure seemed likely. Dan remembered a particular project where an on-site visit revealed the planned location of an installation would not support the client’s needs. He described what happened next, “We sought approval from the client and installed the equipment in a better location. The client made a big deal out of a job well done. Our supervisor claimed public credit but privately ripped in to the team, demeaning us and claimed we had ignored his guidance.”
When Dan’s manager separated himself from his team, he protected himself in a “safe room,” but put his whole team at risk. By not supporting his team, their professionalism and abilities, he robbed himself of any trust the team may have had for him and closed the door on communication.
Here is what a good leader would have done: When a competent team has a breakthrough idea and takes the risk of telling the client a proposed site is not appropriate, the leader should back them up. If they get approval to make adjustments on their own, applaud the team’s initiative. If their plan fails, a good leader steps in and helps solve the problem and searches for new ideas. When the client is pleased, the leader allows his team their moment in the spotlight. If a leader supports his team in this manner, they will respect the leader and each other and feel an incentive to find creative solutions to problems whenever they arise.
A colleague, who formerly worked in television news, shared with me how her manager’s personal frustration in his own career track influenced his interaction with subordinates. Connie described getting the video for a murder story and then having to drive across a mountain to the feed point to do her live shot for the evening news. Along the mountain drive she hit a white tailed deer, which practically destroyed her rental car. Windshield glass shattered and cut her face and hands, but she got the car moving again and cleaned up as best she could. After making it the rest of the way to the sister station, she did the live shot for the evening news. She told what happened the following day, “My News Director suspended me for wrecking the rental car and then criticized me for sounding nasal during my on-air spot.”
Connie went to amazing measures to get the story on the air. Was she commended for her efforts? No. Was her extraordinary hard work acknowledged? No. Did this negatively affect her career? Again no. Connie moved up while the News Director stayed behind. Good leaders do not intimidate and bully their subordinates.
The employee whom every business should want will seek satisfying work, leaders they can learn from, and companies that are moving in an exciting direction. They want to be part of the dream, the accomplishment.
The enthusiasm and creativity that positive employees bring with them is like breathing fresh air into a stale room. Their “oxygen” feeds growth and strengthens the company. Merle Crowell, author and historian, stated this eloquently; “It’s the men behind who ‘make’ the man ahead.” To recognize those “behind”, a simple management principle works:
You don’t need to carry pom-poms and do cartwheels, but you do need to encourage, support, and mentor your employees. You are responsible for the morale of your department.
Another colleague, Bill, shared an example of a leader who recognized this need. He was teaching in a private school with a tight budget. The principal made it routine to recognize positive activity from the staff, including annual reviews, pep talks and end-of-the-year awards. One year Bill was Teacher of the Year. He said of his experience, “This was the lowest paid job I’ve held but the most rewarding in all other ways.”
Bill’s final comment was the most telling. The meager balance in his checkbook seemed unimportant because a good leader frequently replenished Bill’s “professional resource bank.” Taking the time to acknowledge people’s importance doesn’t cost – it pays!
About the authoe
Richard Highsmith, [email protected], is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at [http://www.qualityteambuilding.com] or call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101.