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Coaching for Growth & Development, Part 4 – Praise

Filed in Blog by Tracey Davison on 2998 - 0 Comments

Coaching for development - Leadership Blog
  • By the age of 5 you will already have received the majority of praise that you’ll receive in your entire life.
  • For every 1 piece of praise you receive, you receive 14 pieces of criticism.

Rather depressing facts, particularly when we take into consideration the significant impact praise can have on individual and team effectiveness.

When coaching for development, how can leaders use praise to encourage growth and heighten effectiveness?

Use praise.
This might sound obvious, but a large percentage of leaders are failing to use praise at all, either because they lack confidence in doing so, or because they don’t feel it is necessary (“why should people be praised just for doing the job they’re paid to do?”).  Praise not only makes us feel good and heightens engagement and workplace happiness, but it also encourages us to apply more effort to achieve even better results next time.  In other words: it encourages self-improvement, development and growth.

Praise effort, not results.
Think back to your school years – remember the child who never put in any effort and always got a high score?  Then there was the child who tried so hard, but never got above average.  Which child should receive praise?  (Whilst of course there’s a big difference between unrealised potential and incapability) the point here is that final outcome is not always a fair reflection of the effort that’s been applied.  Human beings make mistakes, they fail and leaders must take account, not just of the final result, but of the effort applied beforehand and of the lessons have been taken from those failures.  When it comes to praising your people, it is therefore their efforts and not their results you should focus on.  Research conducted by Carol S Dweck with children shows us that those who receive praise for results rather than effort;

  • achieve less (than those who are praised for their effort),
  • avoid challenging tasks,
  • are more likely to inflate their actual achievements and
  • are less likely to acknowledge and work on the gaps in their capabilities.

Praising effort over results encourages a growth mindset, in which individuals apply maximum effort, see failure as an opportunity to learn from and who challenge themselves to achieve more and realise their potential.

Be sincere.
Praise is an incredibly powerful development tool, but it should not be used as a jockey uses his whip, ie; solely for driving performance.  Much like a proud parent, highly effective leaders have a genuine desire to acknowledge, support and encourage their people and praise is just one way they demonstrate this.  Praise should be deserved, not dished out left, right and centre just to make everybody feel better and work harder.  If you do this, it will come across as insincere and mistrust and disengagement will quickly follow.  For leaders who’ve never praised their people before, it may be a daunting prospect.  To start with, try bringing the entire team together and praising them for a collective effort, or even letting your team know you’re aware you’ve been a bit remiss in the past at praising their efforts, but that you intend to change that.

In conclusion

As a society, we definitely recognise the powerful influence of praise; using it with our children to encourage the good behaviours and removing it when we want to discourage less desirable behaviours.  What we’re not so smart about is praising each other as adults.  Although we may even find it uncomfortable, leaders (whether they’re using coaching for development or not) need to step up, face their misgivings and start praising their people.  Not only will it improve their performance, but they deserve it.


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