Grateful Leaders Know That Communication Leads to Connection

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

If you have been following this series for the first three of the 5 Cs—consciousness, choice, and courage—you may add C #3.5: congratulations! You have made it through the intangible but critically important Cs, and now get a little breather with communication, which is very tangible and easier to fathom, but still exceedingly important.

By now, you have become conscious of the acknowledgments floating around in your mind, have chosen to deliver more of them (more regularly and in a more heartfelt manner), and summoned up your courage to deliver these gifts or treasures that only you can give. Now, it’s just a matter of deciding how you will do it.

Now is more important

Don’t go looking for the right way or right time to express your appreciation. If you see someone and have a very positive, heart-warming thought about her capabilities and talents, don’t save it for another time. Just do it NOW!

It is okay to feel embarrassed, scared, uneasy, or worried. You can stutter or search for words, but take the opportunity to communicate—either face-to-face, over the phone (leave a message if you have to), via an email or text, or a scribbled message on a sticky note.

Even in this totally digital age, a hand-written note also has great value and power. Indeed, many have heard stories about the treasured hand-written notes that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, sent to his employees. In fact, someone in a class I led yesterday had received one at least 20 years ago, and still had it. She has promised to share it with me, as I have not actually seen one of them—though they are legendary.

Consider my own experience: When our book was first published by McGraw-Hill, I sent copies to all of the leaders who had generously allowed themselves to be profiled. I received a delightful, hand-written note from one of them: Michael Case, CEO of the land resource company, The Westervelt Company. I will save and treasure his note forever. And I was so touched by his comment about how his mother had loved the book that I sent her an autographed copy of The Power of Acknowledgment to go with it! It was truly an acknowledgment feast!  (Here is a link to both the blog post and the note itself.)

Let the recipient determine how

During one of IIL’s Grateful Leadership webinars, Emily Robinson-Endert, SPHR director of human resources at Covenant Woods, shared this simple yet extraordinarily effective way to determine how best to acknowledge someone: Ask them! Here is what she wrote for IIL’s blog:

When I hire a new person for my team, I ask how he or she prefers to be recognized or acknowledged. Some people will say a simple thank you; others say in front of the team; and some say chocolate!

Oftentimes, introverts don’t want to bring attention to themselves. For that reason, they tell me a note or a pat on the back will suffice. Extroverts, on the other hand, might have no problem with you shouting their acknowledgment from the rooftops, or even posting it on a billboard. Every person is unique and I do my best to respect their wishes while still acknowledging their contributions. I started this practice when I was a direct sales leader; I needed a way to thank my team members when we met a goal, and I wanted it to be meaningful to the individual.

You can learn a lot about a person from their answer to the question “How do you like to be acknowledged or recognized?” When you ask this early on, it creates a solid foundation for a new and growing relationship. Having said that, I believe in being frank and candid with people. I’ve never had anyone respond to my question with an outrageous request I couldn’t deliver, but I believe if that happened I would explain right away that it was out of my range and ask them to select something within a defined boundary. Bottom line: being honest goes a long way.”

I think this idea is brilliant in its directness and its simplicity. So, this week’s homework is to think about what an ideal acknowledgment would be for you—what truly inspires you to do more and to do it better. For instance, I love being told how special and unique (and of course, irreplaceable) I am! Then ask your colleagues (one up, one down, and one sideways in your organizational structure) what is the most meaningful form of acknowledgment for them.