How Leaders Sometimes View Employee Recognition

March 19, 2018 9:00 am Published by

Maybe you’ve seen what I have seen over 20+ years of trying to help many companies get their employee recognition right.

Often I am dealing with managers in the middle – typically from Human Resources – who understand the importance of employee recognition and are trying desperately to rectify low recognition scores reported by their employees on the latest employee engagement survey.

Even their director knows they need to improve this engagement line, which has been doing poorly for the past few years.

The problem is with the most senior leader.

It can be chief executive officer, president, or chief administrator – whatever the title and whoever the person is at the very top.

They just don’t get it.

Negative Leadership Traits That Impact Recognition

Not supporting employee recognition is far from being an issue of everyone in the C-suite.

But there are some stereotypic negative qualities that can often show up with a small number of leaders that create serious roadblocks for getting recognition happening successfully.

Consider the following 5 negative leadership attributes and how they can affect your recognition initiatives:

Not Listening

Perhaps some leaders see recognition as being such a trivial matter compared to the profits and shareholder value.

The late Stephen R. Covey wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey

Leaders need to respect and listen to everyone’s ideas. They need to actively listen and collaborate with everyone on the team for their input on employee recognition practices and programs.

This is where the Chief Human Resource Officer or Chief People Officer need to advise where engagement issues are really at and what needs to be done to improve results.

Employee recognition has always been a powerful driver of engagement. People leaders can bring research and evidence to help senior leaders know the facts and feelings around what works and what doesn’t.

Leaders need to listen.


Those at the top may not need the same degree of recognition as others throughout the company.

However, leaders should not get caught up with themselves. Great leaders don’t care who gets the credit for ideas and they should always deflect successes to their team.

A real visionary leader also gets out of the way of their people because they are the ones in the trenches who really know what is happening on a daily basis.

President and Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst, Deborah Gillis said, “Great leaders check their ego at the door and empower others to excel”

This means leaders should encourage recognition giving and not stop it from happening just because they don’t personally feel they need it. This is especially so when their employees are saying they really want it and need it.

Leaders must let go of their ego.

Dismissing Ideas From Others

Whether company founder, entrepreneur or appointed leader, not all the ideas are found at the top.

The air is a lot thinner at the top of a mountain. In fact you will find more vegetation growing at base camp at the foot of the climb than anywhere else.

Leaders must not only accept ideas and recommendations from others they should be encouraging ideation and innovation all the time.

Recognition is not a new skill or competency. However, the way recognition is implemented and integrated into your organization should be open to a flood of possibilities and ideas.

Leaders must accept input from others.

Not Showing Up

I have even seen occasions where those working with me on improving employee recognition in an organization finally get recognition on the agenda of a senior leadership team meeting, only to have the most senior leader not show up or had simply overbooked their appointments.

Brené Brown, American scholar, author, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, asserted, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”

Engage a trusted leader who understands recognition to advise you on the strengths and weakness of your senior leader to know how to involve them better and how accommodate their personal needs.

Leaders must be more present.

Unwilling To Risk

Leaders are there to direct, protect and give vision.

Sometimes they can be overprotective and afraid to take calculated risks.

Recognition initiatives have more of a relational risk with the expectation to be exemplary givers of praise and appreciation to those they work with.

If leaders want to get the results they want either for performance or productivity improvements or through engaging people better, then they must take personal risks with giving better and more frequent recognition to people.

Fortunately, getting recognition practices happening the right way and recognition programs launched and well used is a risk that can be monitored, evaluated, and continually improved upon.

Leaders risk very little with recognition giving.

Dealing with the most senior leaders in an organization is often fairly black or white. They either endorse recognition or they don’t.

Hopefully you can work with those around you to navigate the situation when a leader has a negative viewpoint on employee recognition.

Question: What have you done to address a negative leader who doesn’t understand the importance of employee recognition? Previously published in blog.

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March 19, 2018 9:00 am

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