Recognition is one of a quartet of ways in which leaders can show their teams that they care. Purpose, inspiration and hope are the other three.

Appreciation is an important part of showing you care because it lets people know they are valued.

As Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan say, ‘Appreciation is liking pumping oxygen into the system’ – it breathes life and energy into people.

A lot of leaders value their teams more than they let on. In a recent conversation with a leadership team there were as many views on this as there were people.

Some think it but don’t say it as much as they would like to. Some feel awkward and aren’t quite sure what to say. There are some who think it’s a little gratuitous. Some make it a priority.

The first thing to do is to tune in to what others are doing. The next is to take a particular mindset – ‘I want what’s best for you’. Appreciation and recognition then flow with a generative energy that will be welcomed by your team.

The six levels of appreciation and recognition range from small pieces of admiration and appreciation up to public awards.

Their place in the pyramid below suggests both how much that type of recognition should be used, and also how public it should be.  Use the pyramid as a guide, not a prescription.


Pyramid with six levels of appreciation and recognition named: the base is I want what's best for you


  • Admiration and appreciation should be given frequently, regularly, and in private, eg ‘I’ve really enjoyed our discussion, you’ve given me something to think about’
  • Positive feedback should be regular and about small daily achievements, eg ‘I’ve noticed that you are saying quite a lot more in our team meetings and that’s helping the team pay better attention to what our customers are asking for’
  • Constructive feedback, designed to focus on what can be improved is best given privately, regularly (It doesn’t have to be deficit focused, but might be), eg, ‘Saying more in our team meetings is having a terrific impact on our decision quality; what would be a great next step would be to push back against some of the more risky ideas that other team members suggest. You have some great insights that would help us even more.’
  • Personal recognition is about calling out an individual’s achievements and contribution over time, for example, consistent performance, helpfulness, meeting of challenges and might be private, but might also be given in the team
  • Team recognition is low key public recognition, for example, employee of the month for the team/department, or calling out a person’s particular contribution towards a project milestone
  • Public awards are whole of organisation awards that are very public, are awarded less frequently, and might also be competitive

Start with the kinds of recognition that you feel most comfortable with.

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