Palm trees don’t grow in Alaska. It’s too cold there. Tropical plants need warmth. Orchids don’t bloom in the desert. It’s too dry. Delicate flowers need plenty of moisture. If you want any plant to grow, you must provide the right atmosphere.
Obvious? Not always. Many leaders try to grow a team without providing the right climate. Team members need affirmation in order to thrive. Starve them for recognition and they’ll dry up faster than a tiger lily in Tunisia. But give them plenty of encouragement and they’ll grow as strong as sequoias and multiply like zucchinis.
Here’s how to create an atmosphere of affirmation for your team.
1. Celebrate success.
You’ve been pushing for weeks on a big project. Team members exhausted themselves, but the big push paid off. Your big day came off without a hitch. Now it’s over, right?
Not quite. As a leader, you have one more job to do. Celebrate this success with the team.
Never let an achievement slip by unnoticed. When minor objectives are reached, call attention to them in staff meetings or write e-mails of praise. When major goals are accomplished, have a blow out. Hold a party for the team, take the staff to dinner, or issue a bonus. When your team succeeds, celebrate.
2. Praise in private.
Set an example of affirmation by encouraging team members one-to-one. Make lavish use of cards, e-mails, or phone calls that say “I appreciate you.” Those “Atta boys” will not only encourage your volunteers but also set the standard for encouragement. Soon, you’ll notice staff members doing the same with their teammates and with you!
3. Praise in public.
You will teach encouragement when you praise teammates in front of each other. Let all team members know that their peers are making a valuable contribution. Show them that they should praise their teammates’ success. Mention achievements at staff meetings. Affirm a teammate in the hearing of others. Be fair and evenhanded, no playing favorites; and beware of arousing envy. Simply let each team member know that you appreciate the contribution of the others.
4. Pay attention to team needs and progress.
Your praise will ring hollow if it’s not grounded in reality. Saying “You’re doing a great job” will be meaningless to a volunteer who knows that his work is struggling. Keep connected. Observe the achievements and failures of your team members and offer encouragement accordingly. Asking “How can we learn together from this setback” can be just as affirming as praising a success.
Don’t forget to observe the personal success and struggles of your team. Remember birthdays. Ask about family life. Show an interest in their personal health. When team members know that you’re tuned in to their needs, they’ll have confidence in you as their leader.
5. Treat your paid staff like volunteers.
They are, you know. Every one of them could be making more money working somewhere else. They work for the church and for you because they believe in what they’re doing. Give them the same positive reinforcement that you’d give Sunday school teachers. Tell them that their work matters. Let them know you appreciate their presence and their contribution. They’ll work harder; you’ll look smarter.
6. Develop a lifestyle of affirmation.
Are you an encourager? Some people aren’t. Their pessimistic outlook on life spills into relationships. They dampen morale by dwelling on problems, never on praise.
Develop a personal style that promotes the success of others. Look team members in the eye and listen to what they say. Ask how they are and what they need. Frequently say things like “I appreciate you,” “thank you,” and “good job.” Your personal style will set the tone for your team.