Teach Your Leaders How To Be Exemplary Recognizers

Recognition does not come naturally to everyone.

Leaders at the top of your organization should show the leadership competency skills that they expect from their direct reports. Leaders should help others to lead.

But that isn’t always the case.

Your goal for each organizational leader is to get them to inspire and value the contributions of one additional person every day.

How do you teach your leaders to be amazing recognizers of your staff?

Gaining Recognition Giving Skills

The bad news is, not everyone is great at giving recognition to people. The good news is, everyone can learn how to give meaningful and effective recognition to others.

Giving amazing and authentic recognition to others requires good interpersonal skills. Strong interpersonal skills create the opportunity to develop positive relationship strength between yourself and others. Skills like empathy, active listening, understanding, and tactfulness, all contribute to excellent foundations for exemplary recognition giving. 

The more positive the relationship strength a leader has with their employees, the better perception staff have of the recognition leaders give.

Here are some ways to assist your leadership team.


Find out your leaders’ beliefs and attitudes about employee recognition. Use a survey with all of them or conduct one-on-one interviews with each leader. Use specific questions to narrow down on their views of employee recognition, praise, and expressing appreciation.

Discovering their beliefs and attitudes towards employee recognition will help you know how and what you need to do to engage them. Once you can show them a truth that will influence their feelings, you are well on your way to changing their approach and behaviors for giving meaningful and effective recognition to staff.


Awareness is at least half of the solution with most competency skills. Provide your leaders with the results of recognition related questions from the most recent employee engagement survey conducted. Give them the correlation and impact of high and low scores on recognition statements or questions with employee engagement, productivity, retention, and other performance measures across the organization.

Video record and interview consenting employees to share stories of positive recognition experiences and not so good recognition moments they have had at work. View these videos with your leaders to show them the truth of the state of employee recognition right now. Showing people truth influences their feelings, which affect their beliefs and change their behaviors and do the right things for the right reasons.

Awareness of the importance and value of recognition is an essential prerequisite for leaders to be exemplary recognizers.


Mindfulness is the art and practice of intentionally paying attention in the present moment and withholding any judgment. Teach leaders the importance of disconnecting and removing themselves from technology for a brief time period.

Instruct leaders to realize the people they interact with each day. Ask them to reflect on how these individuals make their lives better. Invite leaders to converse with these people and learn about their family, their background, their wishes and goals. Suggest they learn to appreciate people for who they are independent of any work they perform and write these findings down in a notebook.

This mindfulness adds to the awareness building.


Invite each leader to start their day by reflecting on what they are grateful for in life and in their leadership role in the organization. Have them think about people they are grateful for and the special things they do.

Recommend that before opening their email inbox that leaders follow a practice suggested by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. He says to send out an email to someone each morning just expressing their gratitude for that individual. The attitude of gratitude training is a wonderful way to learn recognition giving.


Ask leaders with their direct report meetings to find out employee perception of their strengths and weaknesses with recognition giving. Solicit feedback by asking staff to share when the leader has given recognition well. Find out how employees like to be recognized and how frequently. What missed recognition opportunities disappointed employees? What is one thing the leaders can do to improve the quality of the recognition desired?

Report back to them how employees scored each leader from your recognition questions from the employee engagement survey, or from recognition targeted pulse check surveys.

Create an action game plan with the leader what they will commit to with improving recognition.


Teach them to take time to connect with employees every day out of their office. Have leaders ask questions to learn more about the work staff are doing. As they hear the outstanding work being done well, they can take advantage of the opportunity to recognize the employees they meet with. The more interactions leaders have with staff, the more opportunities they have to learn what to recognize people for.

Show them how to give more meaningful expressions of recognition. Talk to them about being more specific with recognition by stating the actual ACTION or behavior they observed. Then they should tell the person the IMPACT or difference their action had on a peer, a customer, their manager, or the entire organization.

No more generic and trite statements like, “good job!”

The bottom-line for helping leaders be exemplary recognition givers is asking whether they are open to receiving education and coaching to learn how.

Follow their lead after you find out their personal commitment to wanting to improve.

Recognition Reflection: Are your leaders the exemplary recognizers you need them to be?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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