Category Archives: Motivation

The Don Rickles School of Praise: When There’s Too Much of a Good Thing

Last week I wrote about the business case for being nice. I stand by the article and the cited research flaunting the benefits of leadership based in trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation; however, with the passing of legendary comedian Don Rickles, I’d like to honor his memory by providing a counter argument—the business case for not being so nice. More specifically, why we should be more discerning when doling out praise.

In today’s culture, leaders are encouraged to instill confidence, build self-esteem, and offer regular praise so as to encourage employees to believe in themselves. This “feel good” behavior creates a nice environment, but “nice” is not synonymous with “engaging,” “productive,” or “dynamic.” In fact, research shows that praise may actually undermine success.

I always rib people, but nobody ever gives me a hard time. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid of what I might say. There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.—Don Rickles

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people are praised for ‘doing their own thing,’ they lose interest in the activity once the praise stops. Where they may have once felt satisfaction with the intrinsically rewarding enjoyment of performing the activity, the praise replaced the intrinsic reward with a contingent, external incentive, thus reducing the appeal of the intrinsic reward. As a result, expecting praise can soon make that thing seem not worth doing if you are not receiving the praise.

In another study published in Educational Leadership, people praised for personal attributes (being smart, talented, etc) were more easily discouraged with complex tasks and they stopped making an effort much sooner than those praised for ‘working hard’. Also, when praised for effort, participants overwhelmingly chose the more challenging task, while those praised for intelligence chose the easy test.

And according to Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and professor of psychology at Cornell University, unpraised individuals show higher levels of confidence, while the overpraised are more likely to lie or exaggerate to make their performance sound better. Praise becomes addictive; once they get it, they need it and cannot function without it.

They always use the word ‘insult’ with me, but I don’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I make fun of everybody and exaggerate all our insecurities.—Don Rickles

Before you are completely turned off from delivering praise (and decide to follow the Don Rickles’ style of ‘compliments’), the lesson here is not to withhold support or encouragement; what’s key is making sure the praise you deliver is accomplishing your intended purpose and being conveyed in the most impactful manner. A few ways you can maximize your praise include:

  • Be selective with praise. A compliment is more meaningful when it is kept sacred. If you do it all the time, it has less potency and creates an atmosphere of dependency. As David “Father of Advertising” Ogilvy says, it should be just uncommon enough to make each instance a momentous occasion.
  • Focus on what is within a person’s control. Don’t bother heaping compliments on characteristics that come natural; emphasis what they can consciously influence and control.
  • Avoid applause for easy tasks. A study found that people praised for an achievement that comes easily believe either 1) the praiser is not smart enough to realize how easy the task is or 2) the praiser thinks the prasiee is not smart.
  • Don’t over-praise for doing something they should be doing anyway. Recognize them for going above and beyond or finding a new way to complete a task, otherwise you are just reinforcing the minimum expectations of the job.
  • Deliver razor-sharp praise. Ambiguous, broad statements like, “You are great,” are worthless. Compliments should be specific and describe a detailed account of what they did well.

Don Rickles, derisively nicknamed Mr. Warmth, was always quick with an insult. He could disarm the most caustic audience with the most politically correctless jab. The greatest praise he offered was a verbal barb… and people begged Rickles to make fun of them. Of course, context matters so we should not try to emulate his form of tribute. Instead, use praise to build people up, but, at the same time, don’t rely on it as your primary form of communication. Keep it pointed, make it meaningful, and (I cannot stress this enough) don’t think “What would Rickles say.”

Have a Fear of Losing? Self-Esteem Won’t Help, You Need Self-Compassion

What motivates you to pursue success? I’m not referring to money or fame; those are the products of success. What I’m asking is when you set your sights on a new challenge, what thought is going through your head?

On a recent episode of Pod Save America, they were discussing the inner dialogue of an unsuccessful presidential campaign—oversights, skewed approaches, why the candidate’s popularity seems to increase after losing. In regards to Hilary Clinton, one concept I found fascinating is the idea that her campaign and pre-election persona were too restrained and prudent. According to co-host Jon Favreau, this is not a new diagnosis after a failed run for the top office.

They said it about John Kerry after his concession speech. They said it about Mitt Romney after his concession speech. They said it about Al Gore after his concession speech. They said it about John McCain after his concession speech. There is a certain brand of politicians who are too cautious during a campaign and are less cautious after the campaign is over, and that is because they run with an overwhelming fear of losing. And that fear of losing makes them more cautious and calculated.

How many leaders are hampered by their fear of losing? Instead of operating from a position of confidence or positivity, they are focused on not screwing up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more you fixate on the negative outcome, the more likely they are to come to fruition. So how can we stop ‘not losing’ and concentrate on ‘winning’?

We are frequently taught that success stems from self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem is situational. It is linked to social comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and arbitrary self-assessments. In truth, research shows that self-esteem does not cause success; it is the result of success. Therefore, to start thinking like a winner, we need to replace our aspirations for self-esteem with aspirations of self-compassion.
Unlike self-esteem which is concerned with how you evaluate yourself, self-compassion is about how you treat yourself. This has three aspects. First, self-compassion means caring for one’s self with the same benevolence, care, and consideration that you treat those you care about. Being driven, results-focused individuals, we tend to set idealistically high goals and bet ourselves up when we fall short. Hence, we need to practice more self-kindness.

Second, it entails recognition that all people are imperfect. Often when we fail, our initial response is that something has gone wrong, that this shouldn’t be happening. We have this flawed view that everyone else is living a struggle-free life. With self-compassion we can alter how we relate to failure and difficulty by turning “poor me,” into “I’m not the only one.”

Finally, self-compassion involves mindfulness, a willingness to acknowledge our suffering. This may seem counter to a “winning” mindset, but denying the pain does not mean you aren’t feeling it. Maintain an accurate reading of your emotions so you can deal with them and move on.

Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, fi
rst proposed the concept of self-compassion in 2003. Since then, her research has shown that self-compassion is significantly associated with every indicator of psychological well-being.

Self-compassion yields greater emotional stability, resilience, life satisfaction, and a more optimistic perspective. The self-compassionate respond more adaptively to negative events with less pessimism, cynicism and self-critical thoughts and experience fewer negative emotions. And they experience lower amounts of stress, anxiety, and guilt.

Remember that fear of losing? Well self-compassion has also been found to enhance motivation. When people with greater self-compassion fail, they are less afraid of failure. In one study, after participants failed a test, they were coached to be more self-compassionate. Later, when they had the opportunity re-take the test, they studied longer than people who were not told to be self-compassionate.

Self-compassion filters how we respond to setbacks, thereby freeing us up to take risks and remain true to our convictions. Without the burden of hypercritical thoughts we can stop focusing on reducing distress and instead manage the actual issue.

And good news! We can learn to be more self-compassionate. Studies have found that even brief exercises instructing people to think about a problem in a self-compassionate manner have positive effects.

Step 1: Identify instances in which you are not being nice to yourself. Does your internal monologue tend to be negative? Are you punishing yourself when things don’t go your way?

Step 2: Determine why you are so self-callous. Do you think being hard on yourself is motivating? And if so, how badly do you need to feel in order be motivated? While negative thoughts can help us to manage behaviors, those with low self-compassion make themselves feel much worse than needed. Recognize when your sentiments cross from constructive into destructive.

Step 3: Stop it. When bad things happen, remind yourself that everyone fails, is rejected, humiliated, or experiences a multitude of other less-than-desirable happenings. Practice some self-kindness by being nice to yourself. Don’t lower the bar, but don’t beat yourself up when trying to reach it either.

Have a fear of losing? Stop trying to build self-esteem and start developing your self-compassion. Unlike the self-admiration of self-esteem, self-compassion does not depend on viewing yourself positively or even liking yourself. It is not contingent on failing or succeeding. And it won’t diminish when you experience a low point. So be compassionate to yourself so you can concentrate on winning, not avoiding catastrophe.

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

Is Your Motivational Style Reliant Upon Being Supportive? A Competition-Based Culture May Be More Impactful

Leaders are always searching for new ways to motivate their team. Incentives help, as do training, inspiration, and goals, but there’s one resource you are overlooking—the power of competition.

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.—Walt Disney

According to a new study, competition may be the key to increased performance. The research led by Jingwen Zhang compared the results of three groups: 1) competition-driven teams, 2) social support teams, and 3) a combination of support and competition. Overwhelming, the competition teams outperformed the support team by rates greater than 90%.

As much as society emphasizes the need for social support, you would think it would materialize into tangible outcomes but no, social support group had no significant bearing on progress. In fact, it may have caused participants to feel less motivated.

As part of the study, the researchers also measured the impact of social media and how it changes behaviors. To do so, all teams had access to online leaderboards. The competition teams could compare their performance to other teams and were rewarded based on the number of classes attended. The support teams did not know how well other teams performed but could chat online and encourage their teammates. According to Zhang,

Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better. This study shows that isn’t true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to [a program] can backfire… However, when done right, we found that social media can increase [performance] dramatically.

To “backfire” Damon Centola, another researcher on the project, states that supportive groups can fail…

…because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation… Competitive groups, [on the other hand], frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance.

For leaders, this means we need to frame social interactions as competitions. It should be healthy without a bloodthirsty mindset, and the policies, ethics, and positive culture of the workplace should be strictly enforced. However, a more competitive setting will help raise the bar for all. Zhang calls this a social ratcheting-up process where one person’s win inspires others to “ratchet-up” their performance. This is in contrast to social support teams who experience ratcheting-down—a low performer sets a precedent in which others now have permission to falter.

I think there’s something wrong with me – I like to win in everything I do, regardless of what it is. You want to race down the street, I want to beat you. If we’re playing checkers, I want to win. You beat me, it’s going to bother me. I just enjoy competition.—Derek Jeter

If your organization needs a competitive advantage, bolster competition. Encourage winning. Promote reliance. Incentivize victories. You can still be supportive, but don’t allow it to be used as an excuse or to condone underachievement. Utilize support to re-energize; let it provoke a champion attitude. And if you do it right, you’ll “ratchet” right past the opposition.

10 Leadership Quotes to Get You Through the Holidays

To start 2017 with a fresh list of topical pop culture references, the following are ten leadership quotes to inspire you through the holidays.

dj-khaled

“The key to success is to motivate yourself and to motivate others. And to surround yourself with great people. And understand that you got to work hard if you want success. You have to know what success could come with. When you get all these keys, you’re going to be able to navigate success and prosper in your life. I ain’t never had nobody telling me this when I was coming up. I wish I had somebody.”—DJ Khaled, Business Insider

harland-williams

“I think for some reason my mortality played into it; its like when I’m dead and gone I want to have one piece of work that is pure. I want to leave it behind, whether you love it or hate it and whether anyone ever sees it, it was for my own fire that burns inside.”—Harland Williams, Fitzdog Radio

pete-holmes

“That’s the difference between craft and a career. A career is like, ‘I’ll have a fulfilling money thing,’ and a craft is something where you wake up every day and say, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this.’”—Pete Holmes, You Made it Weird

Shirley Manson

“I have absolutely no idea [why we’ve had such a long-lasting career] other than we have an incredible work ethic — all of us in the band. We all have a defiant streak in us — we don’t take a lashing sitting down. We tend to get up on our feet. We carry on even when things are difficult. I think you’ll find that in any career that’s lasted, that tenacity.”—Garbage’s Shirley Manson, PAPER Magazine

l-a-reid

“It’s important for my executives to feel that I am with them unconditionally, not only when they are doing great but when they struggle they can feel I’m with them and I have their back… I think people just need to feel like somebody has their back so they can make a mistake if they need to. I learned from being in the recording studio–I work with great singers and in order to do a great recording they have to mess up.”—L.A. Reid, Chicago Tribune

chris-rock

“One of the best compliments I ever got was Conan [O’Brien] saying to me, ‘You know what I like about you? You’re smart enough to be scared. So many guys come on cocky, they don’t want to go over their stuff, they don’t want to do a pre-interview. You’re always smart enough to be worried ‘til the last minute.’ That will not stop. You get some guys who get all cocky and they fall right on their f—king face.”—Chris Rock, Esquire

phil-mr-olympia-heath

“It can be ten people or thousands of people, I want them to see something special. I want them to say, ‘I saw the best in the world at something,’ and maybe that will inspire them to go do something in their life with the same vigor.”—Phil “Mr. Olympia” Heath, New York Times

zack-stentz

“If your name is on it, you need to own it. Whether you are in favor of the decision or whether you weren’t. Its like, ‘yeah, that happened, that was the decision that was made. My name is on it and I cashed the check.’”—Zack Stentz, Fatman on Batman podcast

bill-maher

“I love to change my mind. That’s one of the great things of not being a politician. If you are a politician you can never change your mind because then you are a flip-flopper. You have to know exactly what you think when you’re 18 years old and don’t change it when you are 65. That’s a politician. No! As new information becomes available, sometimes you do change — or maybe you just evolve.”—Bill Maher, Salon

“No one needs to work. You work because you want the things it gives you. I don’t just mean the ability to buy mansions and boats; I mean self-worth and fun. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing and directing and stand-up. I mean, that’s allowed me to buy mansions and boats, but when I’m in the mansion or the boat, I’m thinking of a funny joke.”—Ricky Gervais, Esquire

I may not say it often, but I appreciate your continued interest in reading leadersayswhat. I hope it helps make you a better leader both for your success and the success of everyone you influence.

Have a happy new year, and as my spiritual advisor sings, “Maybe this year will be better than the last.”

David