Providing Emotional Nourishment


There are realities we all share, regardless of our nationality, language or individual tastes. As we need food, so do we need emotional nourishment: love, kindness, appreciation and support from others.” ~ J.Donald Walters


When someone is a senior leader in an organization, you would expect that they know what they need to do, have the self confidence to understand when they are on the right path, and be perfectly independent, not requiring any sort of “atta-boys or girls” to sustain them. Yet the most common thing that I hear from leaders in the world of overwhelm they work in is that they are hungry to be recognized and thanked for the work they do.

Receiving a paycheck and bonuses isn’t enough. An annual performance appraisal isn’t enough. We are all hungry for the connection, dialog, and the feedback that we don’t often receive at work – senior leaders are no exception, despite the fact that we may believe otherwise. When the door is closed and my clients are assured that trust exists between us, I hear that they need to be nourished by the managers they rarely see.

It’s the small things that feed others. When properly nourished, your staff will put out the effort you expect, stay on the right path, and do as you do. Some ideas:

Engage them in conversation. It doesn’t always have to be about work. A simple appreciative question, plainly asked and listened to (“What did you enjoy doing over the weekend?” or “What do you like best about the work that you do?”) can go a long way.

Notice what they do well. “Expecting” others to do well isn’t enough and noticing it can rarely be overdone. “I noticed how well you led that meeting” or “I noticed the courage it took for you to speak up on that issue” will instill confidence.

Celebrate milestones on the path to greatness. Your team is working hard, and it would be a shame to let the small successes go without commemorating them in some way. Ask them what they’d like to do to (perhaps with some guidelines) as a team, follow through with the best idea, and invite the team to celebrate together.

Coach your staff on their development plans. This requires time and effort, but will pay off greatly over the long term – for them and for you. Schedule regular meetings to help them to create and take action on their development plans separate from the annual performance appraisal.

Feedback your criticisms firmly but with kindness. Do it regularly. The best of your staff are craving to know if they are off track before it’s too late. My favorite feedback tool (because it’s memorable) is Situation (describe what happened as close to the event as possible), Behavior (describe the behavior you observed), Impact (describe the impact on you/the organization). Use it well and often.

We can no longer deny that emotions exist in the workplace and that people crave nourishment. Why not feed and appreciate them (out loud) more often?


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.

9 comments on “Providing Emotional Nourishment

  1. Great point Mary Jo. Everyone needs that confirmation, or acknowledgement that they are doing good things, at every level. Celebrate resonates with me as it is something we so easily forget as we rush to achieve and look at the next prize, without taking time to acknowledge the greatness that has just been achieved.

  2. Thanks Thabo. Interesting isn’t it that something so simple is so often forgotten? I would argue that critical feedback is also appreciated by many (though not all; I went for twelve years in my corporate role without any critical feedback because I was told that I could assume that no feedback meant I was doing well. Even when I asked for it, I didn’t receive it!

  3. Mary Jo,
    The emotional nourishment is what is missing the most. In my long career, there’s only a few leaders who provided it and they stand out in my mind. I don’t know if it’s their upbringing and just something they find hard to do, but they very rarely take the to notice and comment when you do something well.

    It is the small things that feed someone. It’s amazing how something like “I hope you’re feeling better” when you return after being away sick, can make your day.


  4. Connie, you’ve confirmed what I experienced in my career too. And yes, I also remember those leaders who “nourished” me. It’s interesting how seemingly small a good word is, yet how uplifting! Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  5. One of my pet peeves – never saying anything positive. As a manager, I have made it one of my missions to give verbal appreciation for effort and a job well done, as well as specific feedback that will help a team member improve their skills, attitude or behavior. Too bad more people don’t follow role models! This is something at which most of my own managers have failed.

  6. I appreciate the nourishing snippet: As we need food, so do we need emotional nourishment: love, kindness, appreciation and support from others.

    In engagement I think we need to be careful…full of caring and cautious not to miss out on what people need.

    Nice post.

  7. David, thanks for the encouragement. I like your statement that “….we need to be careful…full of caring and cautious not to miss out on what people need.” Thanks for adding it.

    Wally, thanks. Always an honor!

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