When someone does something well, a good coach jumps on the opportunity to praise them. Praise is a great motivator. But misplaced praise can demotivate.
Making people feel good about themselves in a vacuum doesn’t work. In my past, I fell into the habit of always praising people. It hurt their performance and our relationship.
The Results Vacuum
I praised style. I praised effort. I even praised people for good intentions. There is nothing wrong with praising these things when results follow. But, in the absence of results, the praise was unwarranted.
The Problem With Unwarranted Praise
This phenomenon of recognition without results is prevalent in our society. It starts in youth sports. Read: American Idol – Youth Sports and Self-Esteem
Now I see too many leaders in business doing the same thing. Praise comes without production. Some people believe this is what coaching is about. They believe praise is what will motivate people. I disagree.
When praise comes in the absence of production, we reinforce that results are secondary. Whatever a coach reinforces, the players will continue to produce.
Praise Versus Encouragement
Before anyone jumps on my comments and thinks I am advocating for an autocratic or tough love style, I want to be clear. There is a difference between praise and encouragement.
Results come before praise.
Encouragement comes before results.
Praise synonyms: celebrate, exalt, acclaim, commend
Encouragement synonyms: boost, motivation, spur, stimulus
Praise comes after the fact. Encouragement comes before.
A Coach’s Job
A coach’s job is to have impact. A coach is only needed if the people she coaches are getting better. If her team is stuck, and players are not improving, she is not doing her job.
Praising people who are not producing results is not coaching. Encouraging those same people is. Prior to the results being realized encouragement focuses on potential, past successes, joint problem solving and other supportive behaviors.
The best thing to do for a person who is struggling is to be candid and tell them the truth about their poor performance: “You are not cutting it right now.”
The encouragement comes when the coach enters into problem-solving mode to help the low performer reaches his goals: “Let’s come up with a plan to change that.”
Until there are results to be praised, encouragement should be the coach’s primary tool. After the employee reaches his milestones the coach should shift to praising.
The Bottom Line:
Coaches need to be careful not to confuse praise and encouragement. A coach can encourage a person lacking in results to new heights. But rarely can that same person be praised to new heights.
On the other hand, a consistent performer who receives praise will likely want more. Praise, praise, and praise again in this case….as long as the results continue to be evident.
When have you seen people settle for lower performance because they are already receiving praise for being mediocre?