There it was. A picture of me on the whiteboard with the title Smells like team spirit hovering above my head. I was looking at the “employee of the week” section of the board.
What did I do to deserve it? I wasn’t sure, but it had nothing to do with my work performance. That I knew for sure, which probably tells you more about my work situation there than I’d like to admit.
The importance of feedback
Perhaps you too know the feeling when your worth in the workplace is just a function of your actions and results. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, you’re sure as hell going to second-guess your ambitions, feel anxious about your performance, and crave constant feedback in order to make sure you’re doing good enough.
Every Monday, the marketing department would gather around that whiteboard for weekly status meetings. We’d always kick it off by highlighting and showing appreciation for one team member who had gone above and beyond in the past week — or simply done something worthy of collective gratitude.
This time really stood out for me, even though it wasn’t the first time I got recognition during my time there as a team member.
Apart from a pat on the back, I was also given the most memorable and impactful feedback I’d ever received. Not only because it referred to one of the best songs of all time, but also because this particular feedback enabled me to finally look past my self-doubts and performance anxiety, which in turn changed the way I looked at my potential leadership skills forever.
Personality over performance
What I had done that past week to earn a minute in the spotlight, was to simply organize “waffle day” (as two of us liked to call it) outside the office in the exceptionally hot spring sun on a regular Wednesday. And yes — that was the “accomplishment” I got recognition for.
That was it. As if I didn’t have anything better to do.
Now, let me rephrase that as if I did have something better to do:
What I had done that past week to earn a minute in the spotlight, was to bring people together to turn a goofy idea into reality, and work together towards a common goal. And have lots o fun while at it.
The ability to bring people together to work as a team was something I didn’t even think of as a skill of mine at the time. “Waffle Day” apparently had a positive impact on the people around me. Some of them may have thought of it as a team-building activity.
Of course, I stayed humble upon receiving words of admiration and gratitude at the stand-up meeting and said that we all did this together. It wasn’t even my idea to make waffles together at our mutual coffee break. I just happened to take the lead and organize it by delegating tasks and, you know — making it happen. It’s not like I had moved mountains, but I was happy to find that people do appreciate the little things in life. And work.
Getting the type of recognition that fed straight back to a personality trait of mine — rather than the accomplishment itself — hit me like a slap in the face (in a good way, like a wake-up call), because it made me second-guess my self-doubts and reevaluate my sense of self-worth.
Is this a strength? What else could I achieve with this? What if I actuall ycould move mountains? Maybe I’m not as untalented as I think I am!
Reducing performance anxiety, while boosting resiliency
Up until that point, I had strongly second-guessed my leadership skills. This event, however, triggered a change in my self‐talk. It has been the guiding star in my career ever since and led me to work within change management a few years ago, which brought joy and excitement into my daily grind. And allowed me to strengthen a strength I didn’t think was good enough in the workplace.
As Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg argues in her HBR article; leaders can motivate their team members to act by taking their mental well-being seriously. She explains that by encouraging the feeling that the team members are good enough, leaders display the kind of compassion that feeds back to who they (the team members) are and how they act.
So, don’t only talk about “getting things done” in your conversations with your colleagues, but also recognize “who they are” using specific examples of their personal contributions and human qualities. This will reduce anxiety and second-guessing. — Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg
According to Dr. Wedellsborg, highlighting other types of contributions and personal qualities (that enables success) targets their sense of self-worth, and as a result, reduces anxiety and second-guessing.
One of the 10 Habits of Highly Resilient People that Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., presents in his article derives from this notion. Highly resilient people control their self-doubts and make use of them. According to Dr. Robinson, identifying the thoughts that “cramp your work” or “cripple you from growing fully” is a habit of resiliency.
Harness them — instead of running from them — and channel them into useful skills so they don’t paralyze you. — Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D. on self-doubts.
The simplest thank you lasts longer
Claiming it’s difficult to identify and question your own self-doubts while suffering from them (catch 22 anyone?) is an understatement if you ask me, but you can come a long way with a little help. This is when saying “thanks for being you means more than “good job!”.
When I realized that my colleagues appreciated — not only my efforts — but my personal qualities that gave rise to those efforts, it made me feel good enough. By naming me the team spirit, they basically debunked my self-doubts in that context.
I still feed off that.
That feedback helped me take a giant leap towards roles and responsibilities that I previously had avoided out of fear of failure.
Sooner or later, amazing accomplishments and good results will get outdated. Great human qualities, however, will not. That’s why I believe recognition for who you are and how you act creates a long-lasting positive effect that boosts your resiliency, as well as your performance.