Praise or Flattery?

Praise is sincere. Flattery has an underlying motive.

Praise acknowledges what is true. Flattery overstates for effect.

Praise builds up. Flattery butters up.

Praise is nourishing. Flattery is junk food.

Leaders have a great responsibility and privilege – helping others grow and improve. Heartfelt and appropriate praise is one of the ways we can reinforce what is good. It is a spotlight on that which is exemplary, for the recipient (and others) to see. It should create aspiration.

It’s part of being on the gold standard of leadership.

I know someone professionally who is constantly overstating the value of others. When you’re described with too much sparkle too soon, and too often, you can’t take it seriously. I think it is meant to create good will, but it comes across as hollow and forced. Everything then has to be taken at a discount – it’s a verbal form of printing money (some of which feels counterfeit). Not gold standard.

On the other hand, I can tend to be too parsimonious with praise. And that can be discouraging, causing people to think that I’m impossible to please. Too much New England reserve isn’t necessarily a helpful leadership trait! The best remedy is to remember the effect – sometimes profound – that others have had on me when they’ve given sincere and encouraging praise.

No leader is going to get this perfectly right all the time. What or who has helped you become better at this important leadership trait? Please share in the comments – and join the #LeadershipChat community as this topic is discussed at 8 pm ET tonight (6/21) on Twitter. In preparation, be sure to read the post by my talented co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, on Mastering the Powerful Art of Praise.


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