Last Saturday night we picked up food from a local Chinese restaurant and brought it over to our friends’ house.  We enjoyed the food and long, delightful talks.  Lots of laughs and meaningful conversation about politics, sports, TV and movies, food, and upcoming events.  Of course at the conclusion of our meal we opened our four fortune cookies.  Since my wife and I had not eaten Chinese food in a long time, we had not shared fortunes in quite awhile.

After I read my fortune, all four of us shared a hearty laugh.  Our friend intoned, “Of course you got that fortune cookie.  You’re a coach!”

My fortune read: “Help people reach their full potential.  Catch them doing something right.”

I have heard that saying many times in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about it in this weekly newsletter.  As I think about it, I reflect upon my earliest years in the workplace after I graduated from law school.  When I was younger, my managers frequently criticized me – and others – when we made errors.  They wanted us to reduce or eliminate mistakes and thought that the well-meaning criticism would motivate us to correct our errors, pay more attention to details, perhaps take more time to finalize work before submitting it for review, and ask for more guidance or clarity.  However, as a young team member, the regular criticism made me more nervous about making future mistakes and persuaded me to avoid communication with my managers.

During the past several decades, I have learned that – just like with parenting –  positive reinforcement produces much more effective results than negative reinforcement.  As leaders, we can remind ourselves daily to catch our teammates doing something right, whether they be major or minor “somethings.”

When we praise people on a consistent basis, and we are specific rather than general in our comments, their morale increases, their self-esteem grows and their desire to “go the extra mile” on projects is enhanced.

Here are a few additional benefits of catching people doing something right:

-It builds trust between manager and direct reports
-It increases camaraderie between and among teammates
-It builds self-confidence in people receiving the praise
-It motivates people to continue their effective behaviors
-It helps people feel appreciated, which leads to greater engagement
-It shows people they are supported, which produces greater employee retention
-It shows your teammates that you as their manager or leader are paying attention
-It helps you as leader create and maintain a happier workplace, where people look forward to going to work each day

On an intellectual level, many of us know the frequent benefits of “catching people doing something right.”  Unfortunately, too often daily stresses from home or work help us forget these lessons.

So please take your knowledge of this approach from the intellectual level to the practical level –  remind yourself of the many advantages of this accepted leadership practice!