Tag Archives: Effort

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.”

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.

Weekender: Mickey Rourke on the Value of Excessive Effort

mickey-rourkeWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a round of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just one round? Because it’s the weekend!

When discussing ways to be a better leader, we cannot undervalue the emphasis placed on hard work. Becoming “the leader” often involves competing with other capable peers who want the role just as badly as you. So the question becomes, who is willing to put in more effort to get it.

On the podcast Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin, famed actor and screenwriter Mickey Rourke was discussing his early days in acting. Rourke had recently retired from boxing and was finding his way in his new career.

I use to see Al Pacino at the [Actor’s] Studio and Chris Walkin and Harvey Keitel, guys I really admired, [so] I said to my acting coach, ‘Can I ever be as good as Al Pacino?’ And she said, ‘You have to work harder than the rest.’ And I could understood that in relation to boxing.

You don’t win the fight on the night of the fight; you win the fight the 10-12 weeks that you do your road work… So with the acting, I would go to the Studio late at night, I had a key. What I would do, there’d be a bum on the street, and I would pay him $5 to read lines with me… and I was there every f—king night and I would work and I would work harder and harder.

Rourke is naturally talented. Like you, he was born with a gift. But a lot of other people are, too. Determination and some long hours are all that will separate you from the competition. Think about that the next time you take an extra long lunch or start binging your next show or decide to do a little extra shopping online at the office. No one is stopping you, but while you’re relaxing, someone else is getting the edge on you. As Rourke said, you win the fight in the time leading up the match; if you wait until it begins, it’s too late.

Inspiration from Great Summer Olympians

Olympic-thumpReady for the Olympics? Before you get your popcorn and settle into the couch to watch the greatest athletes in the world compete, load up on some leadership advice from a few of the best Olympians to represent the United States.

Jackie Joyner-KerseeAll I ever wanted really, and continue to want out of life, is to give 100 percent to whatever I’m doing and to be committed to whatever I’m doing and then let the results speak for themselves. Also to never take myself or people for granted and always be thankful and grateful to the people who helped me.—Jackie Joyner-Kersee, won 3 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze medals in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 and 1996 Olympics

Mark SpitzThe only side effect of too much training is that you get into better shape. There is nothing wrong with that.—Mark Spitz, won 9 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze medal in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics

Wilma RudolphWinning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.—Wilma Rudolph, won 3 gold and 2 bronze medals in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics

Jesse OwensWe all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.—Jesse Owens, won 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics

michael phelpsI think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.—Michael Phelps, won 18 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze medals (so far) in the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympics

Weekender: Mark-Paul Gosselaar on Insecurity’s Role in Work Ethic

Mark-Paul GosselaarWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a partial Zack Attack of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a partial Zack Attack? Because it’s the weekend!

Once someone achieves a certain level of success, there is this notion that they are now beyond self-critique. That somehow all the hard work that went into becoming a success is no longer needed. This may hold true for those with fifteen minutes of fame, but leaders who are in it for the long haul must find a way to funnel the pressures of success into constructive efforts. Actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar spoke about this in a recent interview.

Whether it’s competing in something, or if I’m doing my work, even my vows for my wedding… I just want it to be right. And it’s me. I take pride in my work. [For the Pete Holmes sketch], you wrote that. I wanted to make you proud. Really, that’s what it comes down to. I don’t want Pete to think I’m a f—k up. Honestly, that’s really what it is. I don’t want the sound guy holding the boom microphone, the camera people, the make up people to think I’m not worthy. I’m always feeling that I need to prove it.

When appearing on Pete Holmes’ TV show, Gosselaar could have dismissed Holmes’ judgments; in fact, Gosselaar is established enough that he can dismiss the judgments of most people. But he doesn’t. Gosselaar sees every opportunity, regardless of how small, as another chance to re-prove what he can do.

We can chalk up success to intelligence (intellectual or emotional), relationships, or wealth, but none of these things matter if there’s not a constant drive towards perfection. Many folks know this, however it’s the successful people who actually act on it. Take every opportunity to impress someone else. They may be the only ones who know, but sustainable success comes in small steps.