The Discipline of Recognition

By Fred Smith

It's important to get strokes, to be recognized for what we do well. The apostle Paul was constantly recognizing people for what they did. I'm always leery of an executive who says,

'"Don't brag on your employees; they'll want a raise." There's something mean about that attitude. Recognition is important. In fact, I recently heard of an organizational study that revealed acknowledgement and doing something worthwhile are in the top three incentives for employees.

But we need discipline in deciding what kind of recognition we're going after. What kinds of strokes do we appreciate?

Woodrow Wilson said, "Many men are seduced by secondary success." Small successes prevent them from achieving big success. They're satisfied too easily.

I knew a runner in high school who set a national record, but he never followed through. He could have qualified for the Olympics, but he didn't want to pay the price. He had already succeeded.

Promotion is a form of recognition. But it takes more than a title to truly say, "I fill this position." Effective leaders are not satisfied once they've gained the title.

A pretty young girl said to her mother, "I get so tired of people saying I'm pretty. I wish they realized there was more to me than that." She wanted different recognition. She will have to augment the way she presents herself. She'll know she's succeeding when people begin to say, "She's not only pretty, she's smart." She will help develop the kind of recognition she prefers.

Some who are considered smart may want to develop wisdom. The natural progression is from data to information to knowledge then wisdom. In Proverbs we are urged to keep moving toward the goal of wisdom. As people start commenting on their wisdom in handling life situations, they will know they're making progress.

Have you ever been asked, "If a good friend walked through the door, what three words would immediately come to mind to describe you? A helpful exercise is to write down three words that you think would be on that list. And then write down three words you would most like to describe you. Then you can work on making those traits so prominent in your life that people can't keep from recognizing them.

A man in Birmingham always portrays the role of Jesus in his church's Easter pageant. He said that a strange thing happened as his beard and hair grew for the part. His entire demeanor changed and others would comment that his even his personality was altered as he took on the appearance of Jesus.

Early in my life I chose seven qualities I wanted to develop. One, for instance, was objectivity; another was intellectual integrity. Then I got pictures of seven men I thought personified each of these traits and hung them on my wall as a continual reminder.

Leaders need to know what kind of recognition they're after, and can't be too easily satisfied. Set the achievement bar high and don't settle for lesser successes. It is also important to be careful with the power of strokes. Haven't you known people who could be absolutely controlled by the use of a compliment? That becomes manipulation and not reward.

Strong leaders appreciate the point of recognition that an employee needs to create a growing environment, but don't abuse the understanding.