Giving praise where it’s due: What leaders can say to motivate staff

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The right encouraging words from a leader can play a key role in motivating employees, and determining how and when to deliver praise could help create a more productive working environment.

Over at Inc., Marcel Schwantes, principal and founder of Leadership from the Core, points to the motivational power of a leader’s words and the benefits of providing praise in the workplace.

“The key is not just in what you say, but how you say it,” Schwantes advises, as he provides an overview of areas of affirmation that leaders can focus on.


Leaders can demonstrate they are aware of what is going on in the workplace by articulating their appreciation when it comes to how well an employee is performing.

If an employee has put in extra effort or exceeded their goals, leaders would do well to acknowledge this.

“It’s important for employees to know that their leaders are taking notice,” Schwantes writes.

“So, as leaders, show them that you do pay attention to what really matters.”

Recognise positive traits

Beyond performance, leaders can also try singling out positive employee character traits that benefit workplaces.

“People don’t want to be praised solely for performance and results, but for other attributes they feel are equally important to driving the business forward,” Schwantes writes.

“Things like communication skills for pulling a challenging team together, resilience for bouncing back with strong numbers after a tough quarter and personal values that mirror organisational values in handling a tricky customer dilemma.”

He says this sort of praise reinforces “the cultural behaviours that make the company a great place to work”.

An eye to the future

Schwantes also highlights the importance of giving feedback about job security, recommending leaders take steps to affirm the future of employees within an organisation through praise.

“To address this issue, employees need to feel secure in their future and be able to see themselves participating in it, especially during phases of transition,” he writes.

Time to learn

Employees can be empowered by being asked to share their knowledge and expertise.

Schwantes recommends leaders seek to learn from their employees.

“Affirm an employee’s skills by asking him or her to teach you his or her methods, or to give you feedback on critical decisions,” he writes.

“This shows both great respect for their abilities and how much you value their expertise.”

Praise with rewards

Finally, rewards provided by leaders can be a tangible affirmation of appreciation.

“Employees that are deserving of praise work hard for going above and beyond the call of duty,” Schwantes writes.

“So it’s fitting to affirm them with an unexpected reward, like taking time off.”

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