Genuine and Wholehearted Praise


I love to see and hear a leader visibly supporting their organization, their team, and their employees. It can be inspiring to everyone else who comes within earshot. I thought that many of the Olympians did a nice job of expressing their support for their families, their coaches, and their country; it was a lovely way to thank all of the help they received to get to where they were.

Yet there can be a dark side to a leader’s expression of support; it occurs when the line is crossed into “cheerleading”. One dictionary defines a cheerleader as “one who expresses or promotes thoughtless praise”. Ouch. Our organizations can certainly use more thoughtful praise of employees – but there is a point when over-the-top cheerleading can be damaging – to you and your followers.

Maybe you’ve seen it; the overly-enthusiastic leader who oozes positive adjectives dripping with false emotion. We roll our eyes, sigh, or stop believing that they really mean what they say. We all crave genuine approval with heartfelt enthusiasm and encouragement that inspires us to move on at times when we really want to stop. The emptiness of the leader’s words (and that’s all they are) keep us in place instead of providing forward movement.

Before you put on your praise face, consider the following:

Check in with yourself: Your followers will be quick to pick up on false praise. Before you use exaggerated words and over the top emotion, ask yourself: do I really feel this in my heart? You’ll be believable if you do. You’ll be seen as untrustworthy if you don’t. Tone it down if you don’t feel it, or don’t say it at all. Finding your heart within the praise may require some silent reflection on your purpose for providing it (is it for you – or for the person who deserves it?).

Use specific examples: Whether you are commending an individual or a team, make sure you use specific examples of what they’ve done to earn it. Over the top generalizations (“You did an amazingly fantastic job with that speech”) don’t inspire and they don’t help the receiver to understand exactly what went well in order to repeat it. “You spoke to the audience in their language and thoroughly answered their questions” provides more realism to the praise.

Watch others’ reactions: One person I know routinely goes over the top in his praise. I honestly avoid him because I don’t know how to respond to praise that feels manipulative to me. As I observe the reactions of others, they also keep their distance. Crossed arms, rolling eyes can sometimes demonstrate what they feel when they hear overly enthusiastic praise that doesn’t seem genuine. So watch others when you give praise; it may be telling about whether you hit the mark.

Over-the-top praise can be more damaging than no praise at all. We need your praise. But we also need it to be real.


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.

4 comments on “Genuine and Wholehearted Praise

  1. I completely agree on the damaging nature of over-the-top praise. At best it won’t be taken seriously and at worst the recipients may feel mocked.

    As you mentioned, specific examples are a great way to show your employees that you notice their individual efforts. “Keep up the good work” isn’t half as powerful as “You did a great job at the sales presentation” (or something comparable).

  2. Hi Scott, I felt like I was ranting in this post, but I’ve seen this all too often. And I never thought about recipients feeling mocked. Good observation, thanks.

  3. Great post! I agree that too much overly enthusiastic praise can do more damage than good. Sometimes, when we need reassurance that we’re heading in the right direction, we need just a small reminder rather than something over the top. No feedback at all might be better than the comments of a high school cheerleader. We all crave something real, proof that specific aspects of our lives are valuable.

  4. Thanks Desiree. I hesitated to write this post – because I feel leaders are more likely to provide no praise at all. But I’ve also noticed the leaders that give what you call “overly enthusiastic” praise seem to be pushing people away; not a good thing when technically, you aren’t a leader if you don’t have followers.

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