According to an article on Forbes.com, “Recognition is a key tool in employee retention programs for a reason: people need more than constructive feedback and positive affirmation. They need recognition of extra effort. They need to “feel” it. This will never go away as a basic human need.” And I can’t agree more.
The past few years have taught me a lot about recognition. I first became aware of how motivated I am by praise and recognition, when I had my first serious high school job. I worked as a children’s school tutor for a family of two elementary-aged boys and my boss’ name was Daren (their father). When I first posted my tutoring services on Craigslist, little did I know, that I was about to engage in one of the best learning experiences of my life. Daren was an incredible boss for an employee like myself. Being the type-A, high-achieving, diligent and orderly person that I am, Daren’s lax and open approach allowed me to blossom and grow as an individual and professional. Even though I was “only a high schooler,” I took my job very seriously. Looking back on this position that so greatly affected me as a professional, I can see the tactics Daren used that encouraged my growth and development. Whether he was conscience or not of his leadership decisions, they were successful in sustaining my motivation and desire to do well.
How to lead like Daren…
Well, first of all, Daren told me almost everyday how much he appreciated me. He’d say “Your awesome Hannah” or “What would we do without you?” Needless to say, I was reminded daily of my value to him and his family. People like to feel important and they want to feel wanted, and I did. This praise was invaluable on those stressful and challenging days, because they make you feel like it was WORTH it. He made me realize the incredible importance of making your followers feel needed and wanted!
Second, Daren never made me feel unsuccessful. Anytime I underperformed or misunderstood his expectations, he treated the situation impersonally. By impersonally, I mean that he would reiterate his expectations, or would redirect me toward specific goals. It was all about the approach. He kept it positive. There was never any blame or reprimanding. Supervisors often forget or fail to realize that negative performance does not have to be approached in a negative way. Frame every mistake as a learning experience. If you have a good employee, they have no intention of making the same mistake twice.
Thirdly, no knit-picking. Daren never micro-managed me. He gave me objectives and goals, but he never told me HOW to achieve them. That was my job. People chronically like to tell others how to do their jobs, how they want things done, etc. But this is one of the biggest mistakes of managers/supervisors today, because it stifles creativity and diminishes the sense of trust between supervisor and subordinate. Often times, your followers will surprise you with their ingenuity. Be careful not to smother it.
Building off of the idea mentioned above, trust is crucial. Daren would show his trust in me many ways, but at the end of the day I knew I had his confidence. I knew he trusted me, because he trusted me with his children, his home, his family’s confidential information, his children’s academic performance… and the list goes on. He would never question my judgement or integrity which in some strange way, resulted in contracting me in this unspoken agreement of trust.
Keep calm, and lead on… I knew that if something wasn’t going as planned or if I was having trouble with the kids, Daren would be receptive. He would always listen to what I had to say, and respond calmly. He treated me with respect and never got angry, even if I deserved it. I could sense if he was disappointed but he never showed anger towards me, which helped me to feel comfortable approaching him. Approachability and establishing a rapport with subordinates is greatly undervalued, but can make all the difference.
Additionally, as a boss Daren showed me that he valued me and my time. He would always round up my paychecks and their family gave me birthday gifts and would occasionally buy me lunch. While the gestures themselves were insignificant, the implications were great. I understood that I was appreciated and cared about. I was more than just an employee but a person of value to my company, which instilled a great sense of loyalty in me, reinforced my work-ethic and desire to EARN their continued appreciation.
Overall, I learned a great deal about myself from my time as a tutor, but I learned a great deal more about how to lead and manage people. While Daren’s approach worked great for me, leadership is never a one-size-fits-all policy. His loose and open management style could have led to a catastrophic waste of time and money had he employed a high school student that was less self-sufficient, independent, and driven. Different people require different degrees of supervision and guidance, which is essential to gauge when selecting your next employee.