Monthly Archive for January, 2004

“ATTA-BOYS” Hard to Come By



There is no escaping the fact that everyone wants to be appreciated for doing a good job. “Atta-boys” are important to our self-esteem and effectiveness. A nation-wide survey showed that appreciation ranks number one among the five most desired career rewards. But the farther we travel along a career path the more scarce compliments become.

Here are some job tips to help you deal with this paradox.

As we make our way up the slippery slope of career success there are fewer people to pay us compliments. Subordinates are reluctant to tell us we did a good job for fear they will be seen as “polishing the apple,” to put it in polite terms. Besides, they are apt to think we don’t need encouragement. Envy may also play a role.

Bosses at the higher levels are often so rushed dealing with mistakes of the non-achievers make that they have less time to pass out “thank you” notes to those who regularly hit the ball. Or they may not think pats-on-the-back are necessary for them.

The boss may be like Louis Gerstner, the man who led IBM to a notable turnaround. Those of us who have worked with him know he leads his executive team by the principle that “We’re mature professionals; we are paid to do the job; therefore, I don’t have to go around stroking everyone.”

Some bosses can be praising their subordinates in ways that may not be immediately apparent.

A former client of mine, the vice president of corporate communications for a large manufacturing concern, was incensed at how little attention his boss, the chairman, paid to him. He really blew his top after the CEO spent only a few minutes glancing over and approving the annual message to shareholders, which had been written by the vice president.

“He just doesn’t care,” the young executive told me. “He never has a complimentary thing to say.”

I was able to point out that the senior officer had just given my client a significant compliment. He knew the work would be first class; he didn’t have to worry about the document. He didn’t think it was necessary to say “good work.”

Incidentally, my client consistently got top salary increases and bonuses.

It takes maturity and confidence to realize that although the kind of recognition the vice president received is less obvious and immediately pleasing to the ego as stand-up recognition at the employee honors dinner or mention in the company newsletter, it is more important in the long run.

We are well served when we learn the difference between what feels good at the moment and really counts in the long run.


What’s to be done about atta-boys?

First, learn to be more the parent and less the child. Realize that we gain ground when we become a greater source of compliments to others than a receiver of kind words from our bosses.

Second, recognize that while kind words and bronze plaques are pleasing, winners gain strength by disciplining themselves to turn inward for psychic satisfaction and approval for the good work they do and the influence they exert.

They are the careerists who are able to stay the course to successful finishes because they are primarily self-contained when it comes to recognizing their achievements, building their own sense of self-worth and motivating themselves to meet their own standards.

Third, it is important to understand that the best recognition we can receive comes when the organization has enough confidence in our abilities to expand our responsibilities and compensate us fairly for what we accomplish.

Fourth, career success goes to those who make sure their employers are aware of the quality of their work so that the real rewards—more responsibility, more authority, more money—are forthcoming.