As leaders, we often focus on giving constructive criticism and correcting mistakes. However, encouragement through compliments is just as crucial for inspiring and motivating our teams, if not more so. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe noted centuries ago, “Correction does much, but encouragement does more.”

Tony Dungy and I wrote extensively on encouragement as a leadership tool in The Mentor Leader, using the word “encourage” sixty-six times (thank you, AI)!

As mentor leaders, we have an especially important role to play in encouraging and lifting up our teams, even when things are going well. In fact, regularly voicing appreciation for effort, progress and excellence is one of the most valuable things we can do in that role. 

“Not everyone is good at encouragement—I understand that. And now that I’ve acknowledged it, you may never use it as an excuse again. If you have been called to lead—and every one of us has that calling in some aspect of our lives—then you have been called to encourage. Mentor leaders are encouragers—period. I realize that I emphasized earlier the importance of playing to your strengths and finding others to complement your weaknesses, but encouragement is one aspect of leadership that you can’t delegate….” The Mentor Leader, p. 177-8.

One way to encourage is through the simple compliment, an easy yet powerful action. Giving authentic praise costs nothing but makes others feel valued, respected, and part of the team. In fact, new research from Stanford reveals we tend to underestimate just how much compliments positively impact both the receiver as well as the giver.

Yes, those benefits go both ways – givers also get a boost from delivering a  compliment. As mentor leaders, we’d be wise to overuse encouragement rather than underuse it. Dishing out compliments generously, as long as they are sincere, creates a positive ripple effect.

Not all compliments are created equal though. Specific is better than general. “Nice work” isn’t nearly as meaningful than a specific, “You did a terrific job working on the Jones account,” or “Your focus once the runner reached second base was excellent.”

The best thing about a compliment is that it has a reciprocal effect – not only making the recipient feel uplifted, but also providing a sense of satisfaction and social connection for the giver. In today’s world with so much negativity, what better way to spread more light than by making a conscious effort to encourage one another through authentic expressions of admiration and praise?

So don’t underestimate the impact of a heartfelt compliment. Doing so is not only a simple act of kindness, but a powerful way to invest in your relationships and bring out the best in those around you. Become an encourager and watch the positivity ripple outward.

One final note that hit home with me, since compliments are important for the giver as well, then we need to be able to receive them with a simple “thank you.” So often I dismiss or shrug them off, but I need to do better – I’m robbing them of the gift they are trying to give.

So give and receive! And have a great day!

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