Have you ever had someone look you in the eye and tell you what they appreciate about you? It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it? Surprise gives way to a sense of pride, of being filled up, lifted up, like a helium-filled balloon.
As a driven person, I have to admit in the past I’ve tended to rush by those congratulations and heartfelt comments. My mind naturally compartmentalizes the moment and moves on to the next thing. Minutes later, the imposter syndrome—that voice down inside that whispers “if they only knew what I haven’t done”, “if she saw what I have left to work on”—stealthily creeps in and shifts my internal self-talk away from those positive words to a barrage of negativity that’s hard to shake off.
It Makes A Difference
But, I’ve learned that when I stop to savor the moment and ponder the feedback, it makes a difference. And, I’ve found that when I have my team pause to acknowledge where they are and where they came from, it changes things with them, too. It shifts the atmosphere in my relationships in a positive direction.
So now, I take the time to see it and to say it. I take the time to share specifically what I see in others--their potential, their value, their efforts. It’s amazing what that generates.
When I was in fifth grade, I conducted a science fair experiment where I tried to determine what influenced a plant’s growth. I played music with one plant, talked to another plant, and did nothing unusual to a third, in order to see the results. I don’t recall my hypothesis proving that talking worked with plants but sunshine and water definitely did! Imagine three plants. One has gorgeous blooms that are vibrant, upright, and healthy. The second plant’s flowers and leaves are beginning to wilt, turning brown on the edges—looking sad frankly. With the third plant, the flowers are faced downward; its leaves are brown, and it’s dried out, dead.
What I Water, Just Grows Better
Obviously, the three plants experienced varying degrees of care and attention. The results proved it. The care and attention we give to people impacts what we get—the growth, the engagement, the confidence we see-- just like it does with the plants. Genuine, positive feedback with people works, just like sunlight and water does with plants.
What I water, just grows better. It’s the same with people. When we take the time to share encouragement, to listen to concerns, and to instill our confidence in the people around us, relationships become vibrant and healthy. When we focus on other things and don’t give care and attention to our people, we end up with misunderstandings, lack of engagement, low morale, and poor outcomes.
What Should I Water?
Here are some tips on how to water the people around you:
1. Look for the STAR. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result. Think about the situation or the task that the person had to perform. Then, think about the actions that they took. Lastly, consider the results that they got. Inevitably, as you listen in meetings or get updates from your team, STARs will be illuminated. You just have to step back and think about what they’re saying in terms of the big picture—of the situation, task, action, and result.
2. Point out the STARs. What you pay attention to, grows. You’ll get more of it. It works with plants, and it works with people. When your team member does what you expect or exceeds your expectations, point it out to them and share it with others. That’s pouring water on your plant, on your team member. That’s taking a snapshot of success that they can remember and repeat.
3. Admire the STARs. Take time to slow down and teach your team to savor their moments of success. Teach them to do that for themselves and for their own teams. If this is uncomfortable for you, get over it. Seriously, this is critical. You’ve got to acknowledge the small wins to keep your teams motivated to keep pursuing the big ones.
Often, our teams are just as driven as we are. They are so busy keeping up with their to-do lists and tasks that they don’t see that they just achieved something. Or worse, they’ve trained themselves to just keep plugging along and don’t look for the joy in their journey, the bright moments in their day. Trudging along believing your work isn’t great or valued will lead to burnout. Your team members can be tough on themselves; try building their confidence with the feedback you give.
4. See your own STARs. Don’t forget to practice this with yourself. Take a few moments at the end of the day to reflect on what you’ve done, what you’ve seen, and what you’ve heard. Is there a glimmer of progress? Did you just have a win? Are you persevering even though it’s tough? Is that team member beginning to see the key point? Take a moment to celebrate that with yourself, too.
Leadership is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s a journey. And there’s joy in this journey; but, you’ve got to look for it, see it, and acknowledge it. Remember what you pay attention to grows. What you water grows. Build a habit of giving genuine, positive feedback, and it will be the water that will sustain you and your team for the long haul ahead.