Leadership Development: Mastering the Powerful Art of Praise

Leadership Development, The Art of Praise, The Art of LeadershipWe’ve all experienced the power of praise in our careers.

It has the ability to transform our perspective on our company, our role, our team and even our leadership mission.

In my own experience, praise well-delivered has helped assure me I am on the right path in a variety of important ways.  It has empowered me with the knowledge that my efforts are making a difference for others, thus changing the world one initiative at a time.

So what constitutes the essential palette in the Art of Praise?

  1. It must be genuinely heartfelt to be believable
  2. Timeliness is critical for praise to have its greatest impact
  3. Relevance is key or it’s not very useful
  4. Supporting praise with detail makes it easier to reproduce critical behaviors
  5. Coming from a person of great respect makes it more impactful
  6. Expressing appreciation with praise amplifies its power
  7. Receiving it regularly and not just once a year makes it significantly more valuable

One brilliant leader that I have come to learn was a master of praise is Abraham Lincoln.  Observe how he covers the first six essential ingredients in a letter written to General Ulysses S. Grant within a few weeks of Grant’s capture of Vicksburg (from “Lincoln on Leadership” by Donald T. Phillips):

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally.  I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done for the country.  I wish to say a word further.  When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg…I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I that the expedition could succeed…I feared it was a mistake.  I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.

Phillips goes on to say that this approach by Lincoln had an impact in several ways:

He was directly informing his general that the president and the government genuinely appreciated and approved of his actions. This would spur Grant to continue his aggressive style, which, of course, is exactly what Lincoln wanted.

Indirectly, Lincoln was also saying that he would not take credit for the general’s successes, which appealed to Grant’s ego and sense of self-worth.

So the benefits of praise well-delivered include:

  • Knowing and feeling that your contributions are valued
  • Encouragement to continue the same behaviors
  • A boost to one’s ego and sense of self-worth
  • A renewed commitment to the mission at hand
  • A transformed perspective
  • Personal and professional growth
  • Knowing you’re making a difference – which encourages your heart to open and your spirits to soar
  • Assurance that you’re on your true path in some way…

What am I leaving out? Are there other essential ingredients in the palette, and what important benefits have I forgotten?

Please share in the comments and please join me and my Leadership Chat Co-Host Steve Woodruff tomorrow, Tuesday, June 21st at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Twitter for our next edition of #LeadershipChat!

Our topic will be: The Art of Praise.  We look forward to seeing all of you there!


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Photo is Painter’s Tools by Valerie Everett.


  1. Hi Lisa,
    Great post – praise is such an important part of engaging your team. I love that you said “Coming from a person of great respect makes it more impactful”, and not that it was important that it comes from someone in a leadership position, because I have found recently that for many people, peer to peer recognition is as valuable as recognition from their boss. Perhaps it’s the demographic of the employees I deal with (Gen Y)… do you find that people value Peer recognition?
    I also find that there are leaders who think that just saying “good job today” or “great work on that project” is enough, but it’s not specific enough to provide value. It’s so important to be specific about what the person did that was so great, and to explain why it made a positive impact.

    • Thank you, Pam! Yes, I think peer recognition is critical as it is further encouragement regarding the impact we’re having in our teams and perhaps just simply in our lives. I recently received some much-appreciated praise from someone who is very highly respected in his field but is not in a position “above me” in any way. It was very valuable to me because it told me something about the “larger reach” I’m having. I think peer recognition is like this. And I fully agree with you, the words “great job” are nice but not specific enough to help ensure that the behavior you want to encourage will be connected to that praise. Thanks so much for your insights, Pam!

  2. Hello Lisa,

    Great post, it really seems to hit home with the point recognition leads to confidence and re-affirmation that what we are doing makes a difference.

    From personal experience if I am trying to accomplish a goal and have a boost in confidence it goes a long way towards achieving the desired results.

    I agree with yourself and Pam its not necessarily the title of someone who makes the most impact but based more on the measure of respect we have for someone.

    • Adam,

      Isn’t it true how feedback from someone we truly respect can have such a positive impact? I appreciate the kind words and your willingness to share your own personal experience here. Thanks so much and I *really* hope you’ll join us for #LeadershipChat tomorrow night!

      • Lisa I agree with you, as long as the feedback is positive. i think “negative” feedback can be positive from a respected peer as well, as long as it comes in a constructive form. If we respect them we should realize when they WANT us to improve ourselves.

        I missed your chat again unfortunately, Tuesdays don’t work well for me. How long do they typically last? It seemed as though a few people were still at it after you had dismissed yourself from the discussion. I hope to one day make a #ledearshipchat LIVE!

        • Where’s the edit button, Darn it? “#leadershipchat”

        • Hi Adam,

          Interestingly enough we’ll be talking about the art of constructive feedback next week on #LeadershipChat! :) The chats last an hour but as you saw, oftentimes there will be some folks who want to stay later and keep chatting. I’m usually exhausted by the time the hour is finished! :) I appreciate you being an advocate and taking time to comment – I do hope to see you one upcoming Tuesday evening!

  3. Lisa, I am glad you did a blog about the importance of praise in the workplace. It is so important to praise people for their hard work and dedication especially when times are tough. People really need encouragement on a regular basis. It helps them to feel valued in an organization. Thanks for the great post! Brandon

    • Thanks, Brandon – I appreciate your perspective and couldn’t agree with you more. Hope you’ll bring these thoughts to #LeadershipChat tonight! All the best…

  4. “It must be genuinely heartfelt to be believable” is the secret in the sauce. Very well said.

    Praise MUST come from the heart, not the head. Authentic, genuine acknowledgment of a job well done… or perhaps a risk taken, can only be believable if the heart speaks first.

    Good stuff; “type at ya” Tuesday night on LeadershipChat.


    • Craig,

      Very excited to know you’ll be there tonight. And thank you for your thoughts on the “secret sauce.” Without it being heartfelt you start to wonder, “what do your really want from me?” Right? All the best and see you this evening!

  5. There’s our man!! :)

    I think the art that really needs to be brought back is how to accept praise as you and I discussed last week. Praise can do a lot of great things for you and/or your company, but how you accept that praise can also reveal a great deal about your character. This can be noted in how General McClellan would have received that letter versus how I’m sure Grant responded, i.e “Yeah, I totally rule” vs. “Thank you. I’m just doing my duty.”

    Great post and topic!

  6. Hi, Lisa – I’ve been thinking about the power of praise a great deal – and so, just to play from a devil’s advocate position I would like to put forth a question to see if others have thought of it in this fashion as well.

    So many of us work hard to be non-judgmental, and to work with people to help them be the best that they can be given their gifts and strengths. This is a reaction comes from the negative side of judgment.

    My question is this – isn’t praise coming from judgment as well? When we praise others, aren’t we letting them know that we like their “behavior” and we want to see more of it? And, thus, we are encouraging them to continue to look externally for their reward and approval rather than working from their own inner creativity and drive. This is especially critical for highly respected leaders to understand. Given that – what do we praise?

    I would love to hear what others have to say.


    • Hi Georgia,

      I think you’re right, it is a form of judgment. But I don’t necessarily see that as bad or needing to conflict from “leading from within.” I believe leading from within ourselves and knowing that we are on our true path is critical. I think praise (judgment) helps us to see where others feel our strengths and behaviors are a good fit for their vision. If they are not, then we won’t end up happy…

      So, if someone does not give us praise, we should not change ourselves to please them – we should find our true path where praise comes naturally because we’re a natural fit.

      Would love your thoughts on that perspective… :)

  7. Praise comes in so many different forms. Leaders need to develop a reputation of being able to demonstrate praise in many different ways. When a team member feels appreciated they are much more inclined to accept counsel. I worked with a friend of mine today who shared his story about a phone company we will call “shprint” where the approach to sales quotas was the weekly browbeating and condescending conversation to guilt one in to working in a different way out of fear of losing their job. Epic fail on their part. Why this is still a practice on a corporate is so beyond me. Lisa as always you write a post that emulates many of my feelings and approaches to caring for a team. Thanks for the post!

    • Thank you, Jonathan – and I’m so sorry to hear your friend’s story. I honestly don’t understand it. That doesn’t work…studies show time and again that encouragement and praise are so much more powerful than either threats or withheld rewards. It’s simply an honor, though, to know that you and I are of like mind and spirit! Hugs and thank you for joining us at #LeadeshipChat tonight!


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