I recently attended the end of year awards ceremony at my children’s school. While I know it is important to celebrate milestones and achievements, I found myself reflecting on the value of these ceremonies as I listened to the awards being given to the workforce of the future.
First, there were awards for attendance. Many students received certificates for missing four or less days of school. This was followed by awards for grades. Children who received all A’s, all year, earned certificates. Many had met this bar. Then, the awards for all A’s and B’s were announced. By the time these awards were handed out, almost every child was holding a certificate.
Much has been written about the “everyone is awesome” generation. Yet, to see it up close and obvious at my children’s school really hit home. The awards seemed to underscore individual effort. The sheer amount of winners highlighted how standards are eroding. Plus, I couldn’t help but think that the wrong things were being celebrated. There were no awards for teamwork. There was not one mention of overcoming challenges or practicing innovation. Character awards were absent.
Being a part of a high-performing team at work means being able to think beyond individual achievement and find the way to work interdependently as you seek out your sweet spot of contribution. It also means a willingness to get many “F’s” on the way to the few “A’s” that allow you to maximize results. At work we need to fail fast, acknowledge our shortcomings, recognize our strengths and support others for success.
Think about the teams you are a part of. What do you reward? Praise, affirmation and positive feedback are so important. Consider providing it freely to those:
- Who have the courage to suggest and implement an idea that didn’t produce results, yet led to the discovery of the path that did.
- Who raise the question about “face time” as a requirement and advocate for flexible work arrangements that allow for greater productivity.
- That challenge norms to find innovative ways to be successful and meet goals.
- Who wrestle with challenge, showing determination to overcome constraints and find a way to results.
Life and leadership are challenging. By rewarding the efforts and actions taken to meet the challenge head on, we strengthen the resolve and courage of those who look to us for leadership. Be free with praise, yet praise what contributes to success. Resist lowering the bar by rewarding compliance. Keep the bar high and celebrate the journey.