Avoid Seagull Acknowledgment

One of the things we hear about “the best leaders” is that they don’t take all the credit for accomplishment – they acknowledge the contributions of others. I agree that this is important, but only under certain circumstances.

I’ve been honored to know a few of “the best leaders” who do just that, and do so with hearfelt sincerity and authenticity. Giving credit to others is important and wonderful – but only if it is genuinely felt by the person expressing it. Anything less, and people will distrust the praise.

Leaders who practice “Seagull Acknowledgment” (swooping in and dropping praise when trusting and respectful relationships are absent) will find that their tributes are met with skepticism.

We can’t underestimate the importance of consistency of intent and action when acknowledging the contributions of others. If there is any doubt in your mind about the sincerity of your praise, ask yourself:

What is the intent of the praise or acknowledgment? Dig deep here. Is the intent to make me look like a good leader by doing what I’m supposed to, or do I really believe that the praise and acknowledgment of others is deserved?

How do I treat others “behind closed doors”? Do I acknowledge their efforts privately? Do I hold criticisms to a minimum? Am I consistently kind and respectful in thought, words, and actions (this may be stretching the point a bit, but anything less can lead to distrust of your praise)?

Do I coach others on an ongoing and consistent basis with a heartfelt desire for them to improve and learn from their experiences? Note that coaching is NOT about pointing out what is wrong, but IS about suspending judgment and guiding.

If the questions above lead you to a point where you find that your acknowledgment is less than sincere, consider holding off. It may be better to withold praise than to provide praise with intent that is less than authentic.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.