He that is hard to please may get nothing in the end.Aesop
I like dogs. We have two, Roscoe, a mutt we found on the street, and Dixie, a pit bull mix we adopted from a shelter. Both have their oddities but also have a trait common to most dogs; they are easy to please and communicate their gratitude. Whether it is food, being let out, being let in, getting scratched, or being taken on a walk, when they are granted simple pleasures, they respond in maximum ways.
I promise I am not always happy about feeding dogs at 5:30 am, but once I go into their room, the energy and excitement they show me for being there and getting them breakfast more than makes up for the earliness of the time. I don’t mind doing things for them because they make me feel good when I do.
As leaders, we should be more like my dogs. We should major in showing gratitude and appreciation to the people on our team for the effort they put into what they do. When correction or encouragement is needed, it should be a small portion of the feedback we are giving, not the majority.
When a leader is difficult to please, the people they are leading will eventually stop trying. They will find a level of effort that avoids the worst attention of the toxic leader but will never strive to make the leader happy as they simply don’t believe it’s possible (or worth the herculean effort). Unfortunately, this often leads to passable performance in that no one is overtly “failing”, but at the same time, no one is doing their best work.
Conversely, when a leader is generous with praise and gratitude, people’s instinct to please spurs them to do more than the leader expects. As the leader continues to praise and recognize the value of the work being done, people will continue to increase their effort because it is fulfilling to do great things for people who are truly grateful.
As individuals, we know this is true. You have experienced someone in your life who is never happy or satisfied with anything. At some point, you just quit trying. Hopefully, you have also experienced someone who was sincerely grateful for whatever you did. They appreciate even your smallest gestures and efforts, and because it feels so good to do things for them, you find yourself doing more.
There is a significant difference between being hard to please (and therefore ungrateful) and having high standards. We can be grateful and openly praise people for their effort and character while holding to very high standards of behavior and work product. It isn’t about accepting substandard work or allowing chronic lack of effort. It is about finding the good in people and seeing what they are doing in an appreciative framework.
I love feeding the dogs. They make me feel so necessary and loved. Dixie smiles when I scratch her along her back and Roscoe closes his eyes in satisfaction when you scratch his chest. Both of them are delighted every time I come home, let them out of the dog room, or do anything at all for them. They are always full of kisses, dog smiles, and tail wags.
If we respond to our team a little more like dogs and a little less like curmudgeons, we will find that they, in turn, will rise above our expectations. If we are hard to please, we may have nothing in the end. If we are generous with our gratitude and praise, we will be rewarded with team members who strive to make the team successful. Being a grateful and thankful leader pays significant dividends, but more importantly, it is The Kimray Way.