Giving Positive Recognition

Marshall Goldsmith
4 min readAug 13, 2021

Learn a simple, effective system for getting better at providing positive recognition!

We all have that relative who is always late. She comes in and says, “Oh I am so sorry, I am always late.”

Or, we hear another relative who always makes embarrassing gaffes like Ralph Cramden. He excuses himself saying, “I always say the wrong thing.”

In reality, these people who “admit” their mistakes are setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, they are giving themselves permission to always say the wrong thing or always be late.

The fact is that what we say about ourselves positive and negative defines who we are.

How about the boss who, on the positive side, says things like… “I am usually able to figure these things out,” or “I am dedicated to outworking the competition.”

On the negative side, the boss may say things like…”I am a bad listener” or “I am not detail oriented.”

These little sayings add up to our definition of who we are. I consider them a pile of behaviors that we define as “me.” The more we talk, the more we define our unalterable essence.

Well. Let me alter your perspective.

If we buy into our behavior definition of “me,” which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your “need to be me” get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized inappropriate behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”?

A CEO Who Refused to Be Phony

Some years ago, I worked with a CEO who was generally regarded as a great leader of people but was seen as lacking in the ability to provide positive recognition. As we reviewed his 360-degree feedback report, he snorted, “What do you want me to do, go around praising people who don’t deserve it? I don’t want to look like a phony!”

“Is that your excuse for not giving recognition?” I asked. “You don’t want to look like a phony?”

“Yes,” he replied.

We went back and forth as he desperately defended his miserable scores on giving recognition. He was very animated in articulating his defense. For example, he went into a tirade…

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Marshall Goldsmith

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams.