Who me–a praise miser?

by Sam on July 29, 2009

praise miser

Analysis: People desire to be told that they are valued, but far too many praise misers populate the management ranks. Is there any chance you’re one of them? If you can say, “I resemble that!” for any of the dirty dozen statements below, please don’t rationalize your miserliness, and please don’t feel personally attacked by me. Instead, commit yourself to more inspirational leadership.

Answer: Saying “thank you” doesn’t come natural to me. Do you also find yourself anywhere on the list? Perhaps we can be accountability partners for each other, at least in spirit, to overcome our emotional or intellectual counter indications to expressions of appreciation.

1. “My good people know they’re doing good work; I don’t have to tell them.” One of the worst mistakes you’ll ever make is to take your best employees for granted. Yes, they do know they’re outperforming others, but they do look to you for special acknowledgment of that fact.

2. “Very few people exceed my standards for performance.” One of the reasons great doers can make poor leaders is that they’re often disappointed to find so few direct reports as dedicated or as competent as they were. They don’t have the stomach for acknowledging anything short of their personal level of accomplishment.

3. “This appreciation thing is a little too touchy-feely for me.” This continues to be a struggle of mine. I was raised in a home where “Thank you” was not said. If you were likewise influenced by an impersonal environment, you may have a similar deficit to overcome.

4. “We don’t do that around here.” In a corporate meeting I attended a few years ago, the Vice President of Engineering reported to the President with alarm that as he walked through the tooling plant he found too many people smiling. I’m not kidding! That corporate culture, like one you may be familiar with, was not exactly praise-friendly.

5. “If people want praise they’ll find it in their pay envelopes.” This is one you’ve heard before. In their pay envelopes employees find what they are entitled to according to the contract you made with them. They’ve given you a piece of their lives and you’ve given them a piece of the company’s money. Who got the better deal? Small company owners should say “Thank you” as they put pay envelopes into the hands of employees.

6. “Can’t you praise too much?” Of course you can! Passing it out like fortune cookies at an Asian restaurant because it’s time to distribute thanks, demeans it. Like any valuable commodity it should be in somewhat limited supply, but it must not be the extreme rarity it so often is. NB: Managers who ask me this question are almost always praise misers. Think about why that’s true.

7. “If you praise people they’ll think they’ve made it and will stop trying to improve.” Give this objection some serious thought and you’ll realize how groundless it is. Recall a time when someone offered you a word of encouragement in the midst of a struggle. Did it not spur you on? Praise acts as a motivator when people receive it on their improvement journey. No one says, “Now that she recognized my work, I can slack off.”

8. “If you praise people they’ll expect a pay raise or a promotion.” Maybe they deserve one!

9. “I’m not going to praise people for just doing their job.” What do you think? Should you show your gratitude to those who give you only what you ask of them, and nothing more. By now you’ve realized that I find praise to be a motivator rather than a reward. If I’m right, you should be looking for opportunity to express appreciation to all in your employ—if some more than others.

10. “People shouldn’t be coddled; I don’t need constant approval and neither should they.” Unfortunately, there are praise junkies out there—people who window shop for affirmation. If you supervise such a person, let your actions in the situation be tempered by a realization that one of two factors is likely operating here. Either that person as a child was fed a steady diet of “good boy/girl” or is suffering from desperate insecurity.

11. “I’m so busy. The last thing I have time for is walking around to make sure everyone is happy.” Please don’t tell me you believe that attending meetings, traveling, or staying tied to your desk are higher priorities.

12. “My job is to keep my people out of trouble, error-free, and on the straight and narrow.” There are two kinds of leaders in the world: failure preventers and success insurers. Success insuring leaders see their jobs as helping their people grow, take smart risks, and achieve goals that initially look to be beyond their reach. They aim to catch people in the act of victory and celebrate it. Failure preventers look like the guy at the top of the page.

Additionally: After creating this list and thinking about my own connection to #3, I was reminded of the saying, “To know ourselves diseased is half our cure.” At 6AM next Wednesday you’ll receive many ideas to use praise more effectively to motivate others and to complete the other 50% of the cure.


“Ask Sam Deep” will be on vacation for the next four weeks. When we return on August 26, we may move to a different schedule, depending on what we hear from you. What would you prefer?

1. Continue a weekly publication schedule?

2. Move to an every-other-week schedule?

3. Publish monthly?

Please send me an email with your comments on the publication frequency, or simply type in a 1, 2 or 3. I’ll know what you mean.

Aphorism: Once in a century a man may be ruined or made insufferable by praise. But surely once a minute something generous dies for want of it. ~John Masefield

Approaching: If you can’t wait for one of these “coming attractions” send me an email for a sneak preview.

8/26: How can I use praise more effectively to motivate others?

9/2: Why do many performance appraisal systems fail to improve performance?

9/9: What role do manners and civility play in the workplace?

9/16: How can I wow the audience when I make a formal presentation?

9/23: What are some good ways to organize my thoughts for a presentation?

9/30: How do I best connect with my presentation audience?

10/7: How can I send the most powerful messages during a presentation?

10/14: How can I master the finishing touches of my presentation?

Action (yours)

Do you have an Ask for Sam about leadership, team building or communications? Email that question to him at sam@asksamdeep.com. He will respond to you either by email or telephone. Please include your telephone number with your Ask.

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