Bill Goodwin is CEO of MeMD, a national telehealth provider offering virtual urgent care, primary care, and behavioral health solutions.

Let’s face it. We all need compliments on a regular basis. Leading isn’t easy. Working with other people can often be a challenge. The underlying stress of always having to manage and lead can take its toll. You feel it, and your team feels it. 

Whether you are new to the workforce or the CEO of a large company, compliments should be top-of-mind. You might naturally dole out kindness to your kids, but when it comes to giving genuine compliments to other adults, I’ve found that most people typically fall short. The problem is two-fold: (1) most leaders simply don’t give enough compliments, and (2) of those leaders who do give compliments, many of their compliments lack substance and specificity.

Assessing Compliment Scores

A “compliment score” can help you assess the effectiveness of giving and receiving compliments. The process I use comes from years and years of business experience, parenting, understanding what motivates individuals and research on how to give feedback. To start, let’s evaluate the compliment score of your boss.

How many compliments have you received from your boss within the past 90 days?

1. None

2. Maybe one or two

3. Three or more

If you received compliments from your boss, how specific were they to an actual behavior or action?

1. Not specific at all but more generic, like “nice job”

2. Indirectly tied to a behavior or action

3. Directly tied to a behavior or action

If you received compliments, how many were face-to-face or via Zoom, where your boss was looking directly at you to give you the compliment?

1. All were via email

2. I think I had one with face-to-face contact in person or through videoconferencing

3. All of them

Add up your score. From my observations, the vast majority of people will score their boss’s compliment behavior between 3 and 4, with a few around 5 and 6, and only a handful will be above 6. Below 6 is not a good score, and over 6 means your boss is doing a pretty good job.

Next, if you have people who report to you, answer the same questions in terms of you giving compliments to them.

How many compliments have you given to each of your direct reports, on average, within the past 90 days?

1. None

2. Maybe one or two, but not to everyone

3. Three or more each to most of my direct reports

If you gave compliments, how specific were they to an actual behavior or action?

1. Not specific at all but more generic, like “nice job” or “good work”

2. Indirectly tied to a behavior or action

3. Directly tied to a behavior or action

If you gave compliments, how many were face-to-face or via Zoom, where you were looking at your direct report when you gave them the compliment?

1. All were via email

2. I think I had one with face-to-face contact in person or through videoconferencing

3. Most of them

Total up your compliment score. I’ve noticed that most leaders score themselves higher on giving compliments and have a lower score for their boss. That consistent discrepancy prompts this thought: If many people say they do a better job than their leader, then most likely many of your direct reports feel like you could do a better job.

The reality is that all leaders can do better. Great compliments are far more powerful than most realize as they drive connections between individuals and teams. They are zero cost and can have a higher return than practically any other benefit.

How To Amp Up Your Compliment Game

To do better, we must understand why we are underperforming. Common reasons include:

Too busy: Most of us are going 100 mph and aren’t observant enough to notice what others are doing effectively. The unobserving leader is an underperforming leader.

Generic in nature: Sometimes we use phrases that lack substance. Good work, nice job, etc. are all examples of compliments that lack specificity and are less impactful.

Too impersonal: Often, compliments are delivered via email or spoken without a lot of meaning. Is email the best way to foster meaningful connections? You know the unequivocal answer.

Don’t know how: Since many of us are compliment deficient, we don’t know the mechanics of giving great compliments. Read on to solve this.

All great compliments have these components:

Specific and detailed: “Good job” is not specific. Try something like “Sally, your ability to drive collaboration and greater meaning out of yesterday’s two-hour brainstorming meeting was exceptional. There is no way the team could have been that successful without your facilitation and leadership.”

Timely: Don’t wait to give a compliment. Deliver when it’s fresh in your mind and theirs.

Eye contact and verbal: How you deliver your compliments is equally as important as the compliment itself. Eye-to-eye (in person is best, video conferencing if necessary) should be how you give 90% or more of your compliments. An occasional email compliment is fine, but it should be delivered in person first and then backed up with an email.

Genuine: It has to be real. It has to have feeling. It has to have specificity.

Behaviors over outcomes: I think most of us know this, but it is much better to compliment people on behaviors over outcomes. For example, let’s say a sales representative brings in a great account for the organization. Focus most of your praise on all of the time and energy that went into making it happen and less on the end result.

Frequency: At a minimum, aim for at least one compliment a month for your direct reports. This shows your awareness is always high and that you consistently appreciate what they bring to you and the organization.

To get started, the best thing you can do is commit to giving a great compliment once a week. Track it on a calendar, and don’t miss a week. Once you build the behavior, it will become more automatic. Your team will respond well, it will improve their productivity and your leadership capabilities will rise.


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