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Powered by Praise: How Recognition Drives Greater Career and Organizational Success

Posted by on March 7th, 2024
Posted in Blog, Coaching    Tags: , , , ,

Image of professional Black woman with natural hair in a black suit with a white shirt shaking a white woman's hand

In my work as a leadership coach I see a trend among my clients in the nonprofit, foundation, and independent school sectors: Many neither seek nor receive positive feedback on a regular basis. But it’s time to start celebrating your own achievements for your own good, and the benefit of your organization.

Being a trusted performer can be lonely — whether you’re at the top of the org chart or not. You probably have ascended to a position that you take very seriously. Your board or your boss leaves you alone, and you’re successful by every measure. You’re counted on to deliver because, of course, you will. You neither seek nor expect much praise. 

And unfortunately, you infrequently receive it. 

You’re working in a self-created leadership silo with a heavy weight of responsibility, but no equally weighty way to celebrate success.

Most of us have been conditioned by our culture to believe that wanting praise is bad. This conditioning is even more pronounced for women, though men suffer from it, too.

The idea that you would need to be praised, on top of the title, salary, or the satisfaction of a job well done, butts up against a social norm that attention-seeking is bad. We’ve internalized that if you want to be heralded, you’re probably insecure, needy, or vain.

But being recognized is to be seen, and is thus a humanizing boost all its own. It energizes and motivates us. Recognition can mean inclusion, status, and affirmation that we matter and are making a real difference. Without it, we can end up feeling isolated and alone, even as we take quiet pride in the job well done. Celebrating with others multiplies the effect of the good feelings of accomplishment, which in turn spurs continued positivity and productivity.

If the idea of asking for accolades makes you uncomfortable, remember that naming your wins is a winning leadership strategy that spurs your future success. It’s good for you, those you work with, and those your organization serves.

That’s one reason people hire coaches. 

I help my clients see and catalog their wins, from the mundane to the grueling. Humans often have a skewed perspective on their progress or accomplishments. My clients routinely forget how far they’ve come, because they’re always looking at what’s next to accomplish, instead of pausing to look back at the obstacles they’ve overcome, and the distance they’ve traveled.

Here are four ways to practice this way of thinking and working, in order of difficulty. Start with the one that makes you feel the most comfortable and work on that until it’s second nature. Then move on to the next, until you’ve integrated all four practices.

1. List your successes 

Start by making a list of all of the successes you’ve had, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the strengths you possess.

You’ll be amazed by how good this feels, but don’t be surprised if it’s hard to get started. Remember that humans often forget how far we’ve come, undervalue our natural talents, and normalize what’s working well. Don’t let that stop you from looking closely at what deserves accolades. Even if the wins had the contributions of others, they still belong on your list. This is not the time to demur. Take credit, even and especially if it was teamwork.

If you’ve ever been fired, or if you report to a boss who does more criticizing than championing, this practice is especially important for you. Here’s an example: One of my clients with a 20+-year track record of success at a regional nonprofit was suddenly terminated, leaving them feeling deeply ashamed and full of doubt, even wondering if their successes were imagined. (They weren’t.)

I encouraged them to make the list of their successes and strengths. Not only did this lift their emotional state into positive territory, that list is now a tool they refer to when doubts creep in. They’re able to return to positivity, which stokes success and progress.

Note from your Coach: Schedule — on your calendar — the time to make your list.  Stop now and do this. Thinking about doing it is not the same as creating a written list, and you’ll need to block time for that. 

2. Find an accolade ally

Who can you share your list with? This may be a close colleague at your organization, or within your field, or maybe a friend or family member. Choose someone you trust, who will understand that you’re working on your leadership skills by getting comfortable cataloging and praising your own wins.

I coach a talented woman transitioning out of a nonprofit job where she has been successful but largely unfulfilled, into starting a business that has been her dream for more than 20 years.  

I’m her accolade ally helping her see and summarize all of the brave and impressive moves, large and small, she’s made. It’s not her habit to do so. She’s often looking at the intimidating workload ahead between her launch and where she is now.  But every time she takes note of her progress, her energy changes from fearful and worried to proud and bolstered. This creates the right mindset for her continued success.

Note from your Coach: If the thought of talking with someone about your accomplishments makes you cringe, ask yourself what you believe that drives your discomfort. And is that belief 100% true?

3. Make it formal

Whether big, audacious goals or don’t-rock-the boat continuity is your assignment, ask your boss or a peer to meet with you regularly, so you can share the seen and unseen wins. You will both find it valuable. And your important successes won’t be overlooked.

One of my coaching clients, who reports both up and down the chain of command at a large national nonprofit organization, felt misunderstood by those she supervised and under supported by her boss. Once she began listing her wins and reporting them to her boss, she gained more confidence and collegiality with everyone, leaving her happier in her day-to-day work.

Note from your Coach:  Broach the subject with your boss so they understand this is a leadership best practice, that will benefit your growth, job satisfaction, and the organization. You both share that goal so link the accomplishments conversation to your intention of having even greater impact 

4. Expand your impact

You likely see ways to improve yourself, the systems in which you work, or the organization itself, that others don’t see. Don’t just dive in and do it, be brave enough to share this bigger vision first. By setting the bar higher, you’ll make a bigger impact in your role and the mission. This has obvious benefits for your career and your personal satisfaction.

I coach the head of an independent school whose board of trustees had set modest and expected operational goals for her. But she had a belief in and passion for what the school could become, and how it could serve students like never before. Rather than inspiring her board and staff with her vision, she worked quietly behind the scenes on the innovative staffing and programming needed to bring the vision to reality. Her fear of publicly failing to achieve the vision kept her from taking it to her board and colleagues.

Once she realized that sharing her inspiring vision would mean she didn’t have to go it alone, and that school leadership would be likely to enthusiastically embrace and resource it, she shared her big ideas. Her strategies gained wide approval — and became not just a personal success, but a cause for celebration and mission impact.

Note from your Coach: Don’t confuse vision with the plan to get there. Just because you don’t already have a detailed plan developed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your larger vision. You can make the plan and enlist others in implementing it at the right time.


Want to be happier and more effective at work? Schedule a complimentary coaching session with Mission Minded Founding Partner & Leadership Coach Jennie Winton.

Learn more about leadership coaching.

Read more leadership lessons.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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