Note to Bosses: Mix In Some Drive-By Praising!

How often does your boss pull you aside and rave about the great job you’re doing? Probably as often as Halley’s Comet streaks by, right? If bosses knew what was good for them, they’d make more of an effort to be good to you. I love the way Tires Plus founder Tom Gegax lays this out in the book I wrote with him, The Big Book of Small Business. (Be sure to send your boss a link to this post!)


How to be a better leader begins with learning how to be a better human being. Don’t pay attention just when people are screwing up. Add some drive-by praising into the mix. When you notice what they’re doing well, they’ll listen to your constructive criticism in the right spirit. They’ll think, My boss is a good guy and he’s always fair, so if he’s got something to say I wanna hear it.

7) I’ll pay for it. Let’s get this straight. You think keeping your mouth shut will dissuade people from thinking better of themselves, and therefore less likely to ask for a raise? Baloney. Motivated people perform better. That leads to a healthier culture, higher morale, and higher profits. The real cost you pay is for not dishing praise.

There simply wasn’t anyone better than Dorie Thrall, my executive assistant at Tires Plus. She was smart, quick, and dogged. She knew when I needed help before I even knew I needed help. One morning I called her into my office. “Dorie,” I said, “I just wanted to tell you I think you’re doing a super job.” For ten minutes I rambled on about her skills, dedication, and cheerfulness. Her efforts meant a great deal to me personally and professionally, and I told her so. The odd thing was that Dorie, a perfectly stoic Minnesotan, just sat there stone-faced, occasionally nodding her head. All in all she looked rather blasé, like I was giving a dish-by-dish of everything I’d eaten over the weekend. That’s okay, I remember thinking, I just want to make sure she knows how much I appreciate her contributions. Later, Dorie’s teammates told a different story. One stopped me in the hallway. “What did you say to Dorie?” he said. “She’s beaming from ear to ear and telling everyone about all the compliments you paid her.”

Praise sticks when it’s personal. Extend the life of your compliment by naming who the smooth moves helped, and why you appreciate it so much. Everyone likes to hear “Hey, nice work.” But to leave a tattoo-like impression, try, “Wow, heck of a job. That really helped the team and our customers. Thanks for caring enough to make it happen.”

If nothing revs an employee’s motivational motor like positive strokes, why are bosses so miserly about handing them out? A recent Gallup Poll showed that 65 percent of workers received zero recognition for good work in the preceding year. I’ve rounded up seven of the usual suspects:

1) Not enough time. Baloney. It takes ten seconds to light someone’s afterburners. All you have to do is pay attention to what, and who, is right in front of you.

2) They’re just meeting expectations. Seat-of-the-pantsers think, What, I’m supposed to congratulate people for doing what I pay them to do? Yes, if you want those results to be repeated, if not eclipsed, and you don’t want employees jumping ship. Don’t wait till they climb over the rail. If someone goes from 70 percent of goal to 78 percent of goal, hey, that’s reason to celebrate. My motto is, If you’re not performing, you get kudos for trending!

3) Too touchy-feely. The sad truth is that relating to an employee on anything resembling a personal level is foreign to a lot of leaders. To give someone a genuine compliment, you’ve got to connect, one human being to another. No disrespect, but if something’s preventing you from doing that, deal with it.

4) I get no reaction. As I discovered with Dorie, raving about an employee to her face can produce deadpan looks. But the praise still makes a huge impact. Tell a child how wonderful he is and he beams. That joy doesn’t fade as we get older; many of us are just too uptight to express it in front of an authority figure.

5) Don’t wanna overdo it. Ever hear of somebody overdosing on compliments? Have you ever been fed up with too many? Our appetite for praise is bottomless. The operative word here is “genuine.” Don’t bother setting a weekly compliment quota; employees will see through it.

6) Gotta hold onto power. It takes a strong ego to lift up somebody else’s. Too many seat-of-the-pantsers play one-upmanship with rules that assume If I acknowledge how good you are I mustn’t be as good, but if I’m putting you down I feel better about myself. Zero-sum thinking like that is destructive.

Click here to see all my posts featuring Tom Gegax.


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2 Responses to “Note to Bosses: Mix In Some Drive-By Praising!”

  1. ArrVee Says:

    praising people in public also works wonders – for the person being praised, and for the morale of the team. And the person giving the praise gets more respect as well for giving credit to whom it is due.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You bet, ArrVee! Everybody wins!

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