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Leaders: Time to Affirm Work Well Done

December 19, 2011

Last week I attended an end-of-year corporate Holiday dinner with the management team of a smallish company of which I sit on the Board. As the cocktail hour was winding down and the merry executives and spouses were finally herded to their tables for dinner, the President stood up at the front of the room, cleared his throat and garnered the group’s attention for a few words of welcome.

“As you know, it’s been quite…an interesting year,” he began.

When he said the word, “interesting,” he cocked his head slightly and curled his lips into a “you-know-all-too-well-what-I’m-talking-about” smile. He went on to talk generally of the unexpected obstacles that the company faced – the nightmare issues that were never contemplated when the strategic plan and budget had been set forth way back in the fog of late 2010 – and the cleverness and resilience of the management team who deftly navigated those uncharted waters to successfully reach the other side. For now, at least.

“We fared well, all things considered,” he continued. Then he paused, took a long look around the room, and said, “You should be proud of yourselves for the results we are seeing this year. I hope you will all take a well-deserved time of rest this holiday season.”

This made my heart well up with joy and relief. For two reasons, I think:

  1. Leaders rarely pause any more to take stock of things, much less let their people know they’ve done a great job. Instead, it’s always a message of: more! faster! better! cheaper! trouble is surely following you with a giant sickle to chop your head off! and so on. But look, everyone knows this already, don’t they? Your people are faithfully slogging their way through the middle of it, for goodness sake. What they don’t know is that the leader sees and appreciates their work. It was so nice to hear a small word of appreciation.
  2. The words “well-deserved rest” have got to be the most powerful three words in contemporary leadership lexicon, capable of lifting hearts and spirits into the clouds. Sadly, I’ve only heard this strange term coming in my direction maybe just two or three times during my entire career. Yet this affirmation is so fundamental to our cycles of productivity, self-esteem and motivation. There is something so whole, so liberating, so complimentary to the human spirit when we are told to take a “Well Deserved Rest.” It speaks not only to the value of hard work, but also to the value of the person doing the work. There’s no need to wait until we’re dead to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” How about a couple check-points along the way?

So stop whatever you are doing and take a long look around the room. Tell your team that they’ve done a great job this year, that they should be proud of themselves, and they deserve a good rest. And then, nothing.  Let’s just savor the acknowledgement of work well done.

It will lift your team about ten feet off the ground.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2011 8:12 am

    I will do this today. Thank you for the simple advice and example.

  2. December 19, 2011 10:27 am

    My mother-in-law will stop a busboy in a restaurant and acknowledge him when she sees a job being well done. It’s so easy to complain when others’ work fails to meet our expectations or, as you said, push for more! faster! better! cheaper! Making the effort to acknowledge work well done affirms both the value of work and the value of human beings. #goodwork

    And, by all means, savor good and delight in rest.

  3. December 19, 2011 5:24 pm

    You made me laugh the “Well done, good and faithful servant” comment. I think too many people view the purpose of life as just being a good person. So many view the purpose of Christianity as just helping us to be better people.
    But there’s a very real relationship to be had. A very real God to be worshipped. And he extends to us a very real rest. As created beings, no one knows our physical limitations better than he does. Rest is a blessing from him. It’s not just about preparing us for more work – it is a blessing in and of itself.
    Hope you have a restful Christmas!

  4. December 19, 2011 9:35 pm

    Another good and encouraging idea. I appreciate you and hope that you and your family have a blessed holiday time.

  5. December 21, 2011 2:58 pm

    This is such a powerful example of a good leader. Taking time to pause and thank their people. Looking forward to doing some thanking today. Great post.

  6. December 22, 2011 11:43 am

    We have had a very tough year. And at my end of year evaluation, I was told some things verbally that were positive. But when it came to the written evaluation, it was very plain and vanilla. The explanation? It seems the leadership has adopted the mantra that it’s better not to praise in writing in case you need to remove or lay off someone in the future. Don’t want physical evidence that you got rid of an outstanding employee.

  7. December 30, 2011 2:52 pm

    Agreed. I didn’t do this enough this year, but it’s not too late.

    Hope you are getting some of that much needed rest.

    And, on the writing front, please know from “your team” out here in blogland that it’s been an interesting year. And a job well done!

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