closeup of two people grasping hands to show the power of a positive word

A few weeks ago, during a two-day annual planning session, I witnessed a truly poignant moment. The leadership team was participating in the “One Thing” exercise, designed to improve trust and team health. It requires each leader to provide every other team member with two pieces of feedback – one positive and one constructive.

Having done this work for nine years, I’ve seen many amazing breakthroughs – each caused by people slowing down, looking one another in the eyes, and having the courage to be brutally open and honest. The exercise is often scary and emotional, though in the end most leaders are grateful for the feedback and respond well.

We conclude by asking everyone to turn one piece of constructive feedback into a commitment to improve – for the greater good of the team and the organization.

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The occasional drama caused by constructive feedback isn’t shocking. What surprises and delights me is just how often a simple kind word can take two people – or an entire team – to a whole new level of team health. Which brings me back to this annual session…

The Power of Positive Feedback

The provider of feedback was a young but experienced and respected leader in the company who had recently been promoted into the Integrator seat. He was speaking to his Sales Manager, a seasoned veteran who’d spent most of his career quietly producing great results as a salesman. He’d been an informal leader inside the company and a revered industry expert inside and out, but had never before wanted a leadership or management role.

When asked to share what he most admired about the sales manager, the young leader simply said, “For my whole career here, you’ve always been the guy I could look at and say – he just gets it. From the big picture all the way down to the tiniest detail, you’re the consummate salesperson, trainer, coach, leader – you just get it like nobody else I know.”

Now, this is a tough group of people running an industrial business full of tough people. They’ve got plenty of issues, and their sector has been struggling. There aren’t a lot of rainbows and unicorns on the wall in their facility. And yet, having heard these simple, genuine words, the sales manager smiled and choked up. For a good, long time. So did the rest of the team, and so did I.

You see, this guy had been working his butt off for the company for many years. He’d been compensated well, won his share of awards, and sincerely enjoyed his job most days. Like many great people, however, he’s been driven partly by a nagging feeling that he’s not quite good enough.

So, when his new boss took 15 seconds to share that simple compliment with him, it was like 30 years of pain and delusions of inferiority had been lifted from his shoulders. All his work and caring had been worth it, and now he could share his experience and knowledge and passion with others – confident that he’s got something really valuable to share. What a gift to this man – and to the people he leads.

Take Time to Encourage

I’ll never forget that moment. It’s reminded me how much seeing the real people in front of you, and speaking to them with kindness and compassion, really matters. I intend to get better at that. Please join me – perhaps just by sharing a simple, powerful, positive word with the people that matter most on your team.