How to Praise When You Have High Standards

Written by Dave Bailey

Filed under coaching feedback management


Four strategies to elevate your team without compromising excellence.

My wife has a talent for praising others. Her ability to call out wins as they come makes her an outstanding people manager.

But I often find giving praise a challenge.

Disregarding the value of genuine praise is common among high-performers.

Many leaders find it uncomfortable to praise their teams. They’re fearful of creating a sense of complacency.

‘What if people stop trying to make things better?’

Beating the Praise Paradox

The relentless focus on raising standards often comes at the expense of praising what’s been achieved.

This can leave teams feeling resentful and unrecognised and demotivated.

However, maintaining high standards and giving out genuine praise isn’t an ‘either or’... it can be a ‘both and’.

I call it the 'Praise Paradox'.

Here are four strategies that can help if praise feels unnatural.

1) Compare work to the past, not the future

Measuring progress against the ideal in your head isn't a fair comparison.

Audit your team’s progress against their starting point. This will uncover tangible achievements which you can recognise.

2) Uncover what your team are proud of and appreciate that

Praise has the biggest impact when it’s about something you’re proud of.

Run a retrospective with your team and listen to what they say went well. Your team are telling you exactly where they want to receive praise.

3) Praise what you want to encourage more of

If you want to find more things to praise, it helps to prime your mind.

Write out a list of the behaviours and attitudes you want to see more of. Once your mind is primed to spot them, they'll start appearing everywhere.

4) Remind yourself to praise with a Post-it note

Several CEOs remind themselves to praise their team’s work by sticking a Post-it note to their computer.

Feeling their work isn't being recognised or valued can be crushing for your employees. A little bit of praise from a manager every now and then goes a long way. Praise doesn't just apply to your team—it also applies to your personal life.

  • Are you recognising the strengths and achievements of the people closest to you?
  • Are you able to see the positives, even when things aren’t perfect?

Consider this a reminder to give some praise to your team. To coin Fatboy Slim: you need to praise them like you should.


Originally published Dec 20, 2023.

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