Leaders: use the power of appreciation

Give me enough ribbons to place on the tunics of all my soldiers and I can conquer the world. Napoleon 

As a leader, through the years I have been unaware of the power and importance of expressing sincere and well-deserved appreciation to team members and individuals. I vow to correct this neglect and make “placing ribbons on the tunics of my team members” a high priority.

Consider this:

“Carolyn Wiley of Roosevelt University reviewed four similar studies of employee motivation conducted in 1946, 1980, 1986, and 1992. In each of the studies, employees were asked to rate the factors that motivated them. Popular answers included ‘interesting work,’ ‘job security,’ ‘good wages,’ and ‘feeling of being in on things.’ Across the studies, which spanned 46 years, only one factor was cited every time as among the top two motivators: ‘full appreciation of work done.’ 

“The importance of recognition to employees is inarguable. But here’s the problem: While recognition is a universal expectation, it’s not a universal practice. 

“Wiley sums up the research: ‘More than 80 percent of supervisors claim they frequently express appreciation to their subordinates, while less than 20 percent of the employees report that their supervisors express appreciation more than occasionally.’ Call it the recognition gap.” [From The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, page 145]

Expressing appreciation can be simple and quick, and it costs nothing. In your staff meeting, brag on a team member. Write a personal note of appreciation. Give a team member an afternoon off as a reward for good work. Public praise is more powerful than affirming someone privately, though both are beneficial.

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The difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion

There are many opinions on what these three terms mean and how they relate to each other. Here are my thoughts. 

All three terms describe a process whereby a person can relate to the emotional state of another person. In this order—sympathy, empathy, compassion—they describe an ever-deepening level of concern and involvement.

Sympathy

Sympathy is a mental understanding of the plight of another person. I sympathize with the plight of starving children in Africa and with the person who has a flat tire alongside the road. I understand that it is a plight. I can sympathize without getting emotionally engaged or taking any action. I’m simply embracing facts. 

Empathy

Empathy takes me deeper. Not only do I understand another person’s pain, I also feel what she is feeling. My emotions are stirred, not by what is happening in my life, but by what is happening in someone else’s life. I feel what a person is feeling.

I remember the first time I deeply empathized with someone. One day, when I was a young pastor, I visited a woman who had recently attempted suicide. As she described the painful circumstances of her life and the despair she was feeling, she began to weep. Suddenly, I began to weep. I asked myself, “Why am I weeping? My life is going quite well.” I then realized that I was weeping because I was feeling someone else’s pain, not my own.  

Compassion

Compassion takes me deeper still. Building on sympathy and empathy, it compels me to become physically involved in relieving another person’s pain; it calls me to action. 

The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37, ESV).

The priest and Levite noticed the distressed man and may have even empathized with him, but they did nothing to relieve his distress. The Samaritan had compassion on the man and it moved him to act.

In reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

I’m not suggesting that empathy and sympathy are unimportant or lacking; they are thoughtful and kind impressions. Nor am I suggesting that we must always demonstrate compassion; logistically it’s impossible to respond to every need.  

The great value of these three functions is that they divert our focus from ourselves to others. Instead of being ego-centric we focus on others and become altruistic and magnanimous. And that’s a good thing.

Sympathy says “I’m sorry your hurting.” Empathy says “I hurt with you.” Compassion says “I’ll stick around until the hurt is gone.”

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Three things every person needs: identity, community, and purpose

I recently listened to a podcast in which Sam Harris interviewed Christian Picciolini who, at age 14, became a member of a neo-Nazi white supremacy movement. After only one chance meeting with a recruiter he went from the childhood pastime of trading baseball cards to shaving his head and tattooing swastikas on his body. For the next eight years he sank deep into a culture of hate and criminal behavior.

Picciolini, now 44 years old, has dedicated his life to helping brainwashed skinheads escape from that nefarious movement. 

Based on personal experience and having worked with hundreds of troubled persons, Picciolini suggests that there are three things every human desperately needs: a wholesome sense of identity, a caring community, and purpose. Without these three assets, life is unfulfilling and we become vulnerable to unhealthy influences. 

From birth, we are on a search for three things:

A wholesome sense of identity

Picciolini says, “I never met a white supremacist who didn’t hate himself; none had a positive self-image.” Every person needs to understand who they are—a combination of nature, and nurture, and environmental influences. We need to know and accept ourselves and sense that others accept us for who we are. We need a healthy and balanced sense of self, avoiding the extremes of self-loathing and self-adulation.   

A community

Picciolini was not drawn to the neo-Nazi movement because of their ideology; in fact, he didn’t even know what they believed. He joined because “it was a group of people to hang out with.” We humans are a social species; we long to belong to a group of people. The urge is so strong that we will even tolerate an abusive community. Ideally, we will become part of a caring and healthy group.

Purpose

We need a sense of purpose in life, a reason to get up every morning. We need to be engaged in meaningful activity and to sense that our days, months, and years are making a difference in the world; we’re not aimlessly drifting through life. Our purpose need not be unique or extravagant—we can’t all be a U.S. senator, astronaut, or some other exotic calling—just something simple and noble will suffice. A friend of mine is a waitress at a local restaurant. She has worked the same, simple job for ten years and she maintains a cheerful demeanor and finds satisfaction in her work.   

Picciolini also talks about the “potholes” in life that we inevitably encounter: extended unemployment, physical illness, trauma, mental illness, abuse. When we don’t have a solid sense of identity, community, and purpose, we can easily fall into a pothole and may never get out.  

Here are three applications of these thoughts: 

Individually—How would you rate yourself in these three areas? What can you do to improve or fortify these areas?

Care for others—We can be champions of these three values in the lives of others. Do you proactively help others develop these traits? 

Our children—A parent’s main responsibility is to help each child establish and solidify these areas. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Upon whose back is the monkey

Also - an article every dog owner will want to read

In a now-famous article titled “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? (Harvard Business Review, November, 1974), authors Oncken and Wass created a clever and memorable illustration on how a person can unwittingly accept responsibility for activities that should be handled by others. 

The “monkey” is simply the next move. It is not the problem, or the project, or the goal, or the desired result; it is the next step.

Read the three scenarios below and picture a monkey leaping from the back of the direct report, teenager, and repairman to the shoulders of the boss, mom, and homeowner. Once you visualize the long-tailed primate jumping from one person to another, you’ll never forget the illustration. Since becoming aware of this phenomenon, sometimes in conversations I can almost feel the weight of a monkey as it jumps from my back onto someone else’s or from their back to mine. 

  • Imagine that you’re walking toward your office when one of your direct reports approaches and says, “I’m not sure how to handle a problem we’re having on a project.” You reply, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back with you.” The monkey is now on your back.
  • Imagine that your teenager approaches you and says, “Mom, I can’t find my baseball shirt.” You reply, “I may have put it in the washing machine, let me check.” The monkey is now on your back.
  • Imagine that you’re having some repair work done at your house and the repairman says, “I’m not sure this repair will meet city code.” You reply, “I’ll call the city and ask.” The monkey is now on your back.

I fall into this monkey-on-my-back trap often because 1) I like to do things myself, 2) sometimes I think I can do a better job at certain things than others can, and 3) I’m a people pleaser so I’m inclined to do people’s jobs for them.    

When we allow employees, children, workers, and friends to handle their own monkeys, they will grow, acquire new skills, become more responsible, and more work will get done. And we’ll have more time to do those things that only we should do and more discretionary time to enjoy life.

Here’s a copy of the article.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Here’s an article published in the New York Times (April 29, 2018) that will warm the heart of all dog-owners (and explain to the world why we prefer dogs).

Resting face; engaged face

Recently, my adult daughter asked me, “Dad are you mad at me?” I was surprised at her question. “Of course not,” I replied, “what makes you think I’m upset?” She said, “I’m just having a hard time reading your silence and your facial expression.”

I then realized that I was displaying my “resting face,” which is, at best, difficult to read, and at worst foreboding and unfriendly. 

Some definitions will help:

Resting face – the way your face looks when you are at ease, with facial muscles relaxed. 

Engaged face – the way your face looks when you are consciously manipulating your face to appear more engaged, approachable, and friendly. I’ve also heard this called a “yes face.”

To display an engaged face, raise the eyebrows, open up the eyes, smile, and raise the forehead.

To exhibit a resting face, do nothing. 

I constantly hound my adult choir about this, reminding them that during performance their resting face is inadequate. If we’re singing a joyful text we need to look joyful. Actually, regardless of the message we’re singing, a resting face is lacking; it’s boring and unconvincing. 

I have a friend who constantly bears a pleasant expression. I asked him how he managed to maintain such an agreeable and inviting countenance. He said that it was a habit he consciously developed through the years. Now it is his default setting.

We must learn when we need to “change masks.” When I’m alone, my resting face will suffice, but when I’m in public and especially when people are looking at me, I should perk up my countenance. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.