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Celebration as Leadership

Photo by Husna Miskandar on Unsplash


“Why do I have to thank people for doing a job they’re already getting paid for?” Because you’re leading people, not robots. Next question. 

The resistance to affirmation is an epidemic. We push back, complain, and act offended if people want encouragement. We are stingy with praise, and we withhold celebration to our detriment. Affirmation needs to be ingrained in our leadership.

Why are we so resistant to celebrating and acknowledging the people we lead? 

Think of the things we say: 

I don’t want them to get a big head. 

I don’t want to reward mediocre behavior. 

I can’t be expected to be so extroverted.

I don’t have (fill in the blank) Clifton Strength theme so you can’t expect me to be cheery.


To that, I say- Tough!


If you want to lead people, you better get good at affirming and celebrating people, talent, production, and hard work. It is a matter of doing business. 


Imagine saying, “I want to be a leader and lead a team of Spanish speakers but insist on speaking English.” You have three options. You can not lead, learn Spanish, or you can go somewhere else. 


Leaders think affirmation is a “nice tool” to have in their back pocket for morale, but that’s a gross underestimation of its value. If you aren’t affirming your team consistently, you’re not leading; you’re coercing. They may follow you, but only because you’re paying them. They’ve determined the money they make is worth the pain of enduring your lack of gratitude and temperamental attitude toward them as people.  


When talented people leave jobs, the companies always complain they got outbid. They blame money or bonuses. This self-justifying story is a lie they tell themselves to feel better. Gallup’s research in 2018 found that people that quit their job in the preceding 12 months said the number 1 reason was lack of appreciation.  


Celebration is honoring, saluting, marking something as significant, observing it as meaningful. It doesn’t mean you have to throw a party. But the research shows affirmation for a job well done is one of the cornerstones of employee engagement. Gallup’s research says teams need it every ten days. If you don’t care about team performance, if productivity is irrelevant and you have plenty of money to spend on hiring, firing, and retraining employees as they turn over, continue to treat affirmation as an unnecessary add-on. 


Or, you can make encouragement a priority and do more with less. 


Here are 3 keys to unlocking the magic of affirmation:


Focus on your people (“It’s not about me.)


Encouragement is about what your team needs, not what you need. Your stomach may feel full, but you still stop for gas, the engine needs it. It’s not always convenient, but you do it. You may feel fine, but how does your team feel? You need a dashboard and dials to give you the emotional readout of the people you lead. Ask, what would be encouraging?

-Ask the team

-Be vulnerable

-Be specific with affirmation. Why did the action matter? How was it helpful?


Make it a habit.


Affirmation of a team is like proper maintenance and tuning. It has to be done regularly and with intention. 

-Add it to your weekly schedule.

-Find tools and tactics to make it a habit.  

-If it’s affirmation events and programs aren’t on your calendar they’re not a priority


Think outside the box.


Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to be a party. It’s not meant to be extravagant.

-Schedule conversations with people with affirmations as the purpose. 

-Send a weekly email when you call-out performance.

-Drop small gifts and thank yous. It can be modest; the point is appreciation and intention. It helps people to feel like they are more than merely a tool for productivity.


Leadership is a relationship. It requires interest, affection, and reciprocity. Your team will mirror your offering. What will you see reflected today?

Much Love!

Mike D

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