By Magdalena Nowicka Mook, CEO, International Coaching Federation

In today’s evolving professional environment, people are working hard just to keep up. The transition to a post-Covid world is daunting for everyone; the way we do business now, which we thought would be a temporary accommodation, is becoming an entirely new normal. We may have been at this for more than a year, but there still is a lot left to learn.

The work-from-home transition was stressful for many professionals, resulting in an atmosphere of near-chronic anxiety.

Good leaders quickly learned that acknowledgement is one of the greatest positive motivators, and an important tool to help team members overcome uncertainty. We also learned that recognition need not be elaborate or expensive, but merely authentic and deserved. It serves as a great learning tool for others and a way to move beyond mental exhaustion to a sense of inspiration.

The difficulty now is not making leaders aware of recognition’s value, but rather encouraging them to provide it more often.

Although coaching may help managers find the best opportunities to inspire their teams with praise, acknowledging direct reports’ good work can in fact be easy:

  1. Tell the employee exactly what was done correctly.
  2. Tell the employee why the behavior is important and valued.
  3. Stop for a moment of celebration.
  4. Encourage repeat performance.

Not only is recognition a simple modality, but its rewards are significant, fostering a greater sense of purpose in an employee’s work. Forty percent of employed Americans would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often, according to a recent survey by OGO and 63% of employees who are recognized are very unlikely to pursue a new job, according to a recent survey by Survey Monkey and Bonusley of 1,500 working Americans. By contrast, a lack of acknowledgement can motivate professionals to look for employment elsewhere.

Despite such benefits and the relative ease of acknowledgement, recognition has a corollary that is not so straightforward.

To develop the skill of giving praise and delivering constructive criticism, leaders are increasingly turning to professional coaches for guidance.

As employees look to their work environment as the place where solid structure remains even as they feel less in control of other aspects of their lives, self-awareness, listening, inclusive decision making, and similar soft skills are more vital than ever for managers. Coaching helps leaders implement personal and organizational change by providing support and keeping leaders focused on attaining specific goals.

For managers, a coaching relationship is a learning experience about having open conversations that deal with real challenges and day-to-day issues that arise in the workplace. The coaching process can give leaders a new perspective and understanding of how their words come across and what their acknowledgement means for their teams.

Leadership attributes have changed over the years, and the current world health crisis and related economic and political circumstances are calling for yet another significant shift in how people show up as leaders. Should they be decisive? Yes—but also inclusive. Firm? Definitely—and also courageous.

Leadership now also means being able to show up as vulnerable, listening intently and showing strong interest in developing the people one works with. Giving positive feedback shows direct reports that their managers are in their corner and want them to succeed. Once people know a manager is their advocate, good things follow for everyone.

“As a leader of people, you must be a great listener and a great motivator,” Sir Richard Branson once said. “People are no different than flowers. When you water flowers, they flourish. If you praise people, they flourish. And this is a critical attribute of a leader.”

The ability to give praise, which Sir Richard cited as a critical attribute of a leader, is something a professional coach can help a leader develop and sustain. For leaders who need to navigate uncertain waters and motivate their teams toward shared success, professional coaching works.

To learn more about professional coaching and its organizational benefits, visit the International Coaching Federation.

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