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Managers…Are You Stingy With Praise?

Quick! Think of the best coach, manager or teacher you’ve ever had. Now think of some of the characteristics that made them the best.

Chances are they were knowledgeable, good communicators, and great at giving constructive criticism. But I also bet they were good at giving praise.

And if you happened to think of the worst coach, manager, or teacher you ever had, they were probably stingy with praise.

Sincere praise is so meaningful, I can still remember the two best compliments I’ve ever received. One was from a complete stranger with no agenda. The other was from two business owners I worked for.

I had been working at their company for about six months when they asked me to lunch. They took me to Horizons at Woodcliff, one of the nicer restaurants in the Rochester, NY area at the time.

While we were waiting for our lunch to be served, they raised their glasses in a toast to me and said, “You have made the biggest difference in our company. We can’t even remember what it was like before you came and we hope you never leave.”

There are a few moments in life that really make you feel acknowledged and validated and this was one of them for me. Although that was two decades ago, I can close my eyes and see the scene all over again.

This is the power of praise.

Most of us don’t receive enough of it. And here’s the irony, we tend to be pretty stingy in doling it out, as well. Not all of us and not all the time and not with everyone. But my guess is that there are people in our lives who could use a little more praise and acknowledgment.


If praise means so much to us when we receive it, how come it’s so hard to give it away? Since I don’t know of the deep psychological roots of this, I can only come from my own experience. And I know that giving praise seems to take a combination of awareness, confidence, and humility.

The awareness part of the equation is obvious. We must be alert to the opportunities to praise people. Even if something is expected, does that mean we can’t compliment someone when it’s done?

Many managers claim that “It’s a part of their job – why do I have to coddle them by telling them they did well?” I usually ask those managers how they feel if when they do something expected (doing the dishes, cooking a meal, mowing the lawn, etc.) if hearing “Thank you honey. That looks nice,” would feel good? They usually reply yes.

So even if it’s something someone is supposed to do, find a way to thank them for it. And if you recognize yourself as a bit stingy in the praise department, give yourself the homework of praising one person each day for a week. Just seven days. You might be very pleasantly surprised by the result.

Confidence comes into play when we feel a bit of competitiveness or jealousy of the person who has just done well. Sometimes it’s hard to celebrate other people’s successes especially if we aren’t feeling very successful ourselves.

As managers, occasionally when we have a “star” employee, we may feel threatened by their accomplishments and, unconsciously, withhold praise. But as you will see, celebrating other people’s successes actually elevates you in the eyes of other people. More importantly, praising others will make you feel better about yourself and thus, raise your overall confidence.

Praising others also takes humility. To let other people shine, to not grab the spotlight for yourself, does require that you step out of the spotlight. You can’t sincerely acknowledge others if you always have to be right, perfect, or the best.


Just like Goldilocks complained about the beds being too soft and too hard, so too with praise. Getting it just right requires some practice. Watch out for these pitfalls:

Too little praise – We’ve already discussed that many of us don’t give enough praise. Do the homework. Praise one person everyday for a week.

Too much praise – Yes, you can be guilty of over-praising. You seem to acknowledge every little thing. It’s not that you aren’t genuine; you may really appreciate the smallest of gestures. It’s just that after awhile, we start to tune out your compliments. We get the sense that if everything is special, then nothing is special.

Counterfeit praise – This one is the worst one because it’s praise with an agenda. This is when one realizes that you get more bees with honey than vinegar. And so, you start to pour on the honey. The problem is people can usually pick up on the inauthenticity in your voice. And once they realize they are being manipulated, forget about getting any more bees from them.

To keep this all in perspective, I will wrap this up with one of the most memorable quotes about praise I have ever read:

“Perhaps once in a hundred years a person may be ruined by excessive praise, but surely once every minute someone dies inside for lack of it.” ~ Cecil G. Osborne, author