The Power of Praise

Years ago I was a teacher and coach at a small Catholic girls high school in Southern California. I learned a valuable lesson while there that continues to guide my interactions with others to this day.

I was a volleyball player in high school and college – even USVBA-rated for a while – and assistant coached at the college level. When the opportunity arose to take a teaching position and serve as varsity volleyball coach at the high school, I jumped at it. (No pun intended.)

I began working with the team, building fundamental skills in passing, setting, hitting, and defense. I instituted a defensive system and offensive plays that leveraged the starter’s skills, and the team responded well. We began having successes (winning games!) after years of being the doormat team in a very competitive coastal league.

I had just married at the time and inherited two step-children – Karin, then 14 years old, and Andy, 10 years old. I never had kids of my own so I was a total newbie. Wife Diane tried to guide me – at times, I was teachable. Karin was a volleyball player, as well, so love of the game created some neat bonding opportunities for the two of us.

Once a week, Karin would finish her practices then scurry over to our gym where she helped run drills for my team for an hour or so. After practice, Karin and I would grab a quick bite to eat then head to the local recreation center for three hours of doubles play. The local community was filled with very good volleyball players – we lost more than we won. We got better as the season wore on but never were one of the top teams at the center.

A few months after our weekly “volleyball nights” began, I was driving Karin home after a very good showing one evening. We’d played well and took some matches against teams that regularly beat us. We were both pleased – and sweaty and tired.

Karin turned to me and said, “You’re a really good volleyball coach. You work hard to let your team members know what you expect of them. You break down skills into specific steps they can get good at, and praise them when they’re doing things the way you want them to.”

Wow! I was really pleased to hear Karin say that – and, I’ll admit, I puffed up a bit, thinking, “Yup, I’m a very good coach, and Karin’s lucky to have me in her life . . . ”

Then Karin said, “You never praise me.

Clunk. I stuttered a bit, and told her, “Well, I have higher standards of you.” Karin said, “That’s not fair.”

A couple of minutes of silence let me figure out what to say – and do! – next. I apologized, saying she was right, I wasn’t being fair. I remember trying to praise her for her efforts that evening, and got a small smile out of her. In the months (and years) following, I tried to be more aware of what Karin was doing right – on and off the volleyball court – and believe I improved in expressing my gratitude at her skills and contributions.

That conversation happened 30 years ago – nearly to the day. Karin’s insights helped me realize that I have a very well honed skill at catching people doing things WRONG. If I want to be an effective influencer, I need to catch people doing things RIGHT. I work on this every day, with clients, peers, and bosses. I’m not great at it yet, but I’m better. Practice makes perfect!

What helps prompt you to express thanks and gratitude for others’ efforts and contributions? Share your insights in the comments section below.


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The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Moral Courage to conduct Difficult Conversations


I recently facilitated a culture change process kickoff with some of the finest men and women I’ve ever met – uniformed and former Marines who are engaged in a continuous process improvement effort across the Marine Corps. Blanchard has highlighted the US Marine Corps for years as one of the most values-aligned organizations on the planet. The Marine values of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment” are the foundation of every interaction, in and out of war zones, for every Marine. For life.

Yet, like all human organizations, sometimes the focus on productivity dilutes the commitment to values alignment. The incredible pressure of wartime and multiple fronts may be unique to our military, but the challenge of delivering consistent high performance while always modeling desired values is common across organizations worldwide.

In our session at the Marine base in Quantico, VA, one of the program’s leaders shared insights from one of his best bosses in the Corps. This officer helped Joel learn an important nuance of what courage means in the Marines. The officer differentiated two different kinds of courage: physical courage and moral courage. Physical courage is demonstrated when a physical reaction is required – pulling a wounded Marine out of harm’s way or jumping into the driver’s seat of a vehicle to move it out of the line of fire, for example. Moral courage is demonstrated when a Marine sees behavior that misses the Marine standard, and a difficult conversation is required.

Joel explained that physical courage is trained into the “body, mind, and spirit” of Marines so demonstrating it is simple, immediate. Joel’s best boss believed that moral courage is more difficult, and, without it, leaders are ultimately ineffective anywhere they serve.

It does not take moral courage to observe a Marine’s dress uniform askew; it takes moral courage to pull him or her aside and ask that it immediately be fixed. It does not take moral courage to observe a direct report deliver poor service to a customer; it takes moral courage to ask them to sit down, discuss what you observed, and help them commit to different behaviors that will “wow” their customer in the future.

A lack of moral courage means that accountability for expectations – both performance expectations or values expectations – is inconsistent at best and absent at worst. This “optional” culture typically translates into poor quality of products and services, inconsistent customer experiences, and unfair treatment of employees within the organization.

Moral courage does not mean that you deliver messages with anger, frustration, or a demeaning approach. It means that you conduct difficult conversations with care and caring, expecting the best from your follower, facilitating and coaching their clear understanding of both the expectation and the behavior required to meet that expectation.

If you want a high performance, values aligned culture, you must clarify performance and values expectations and then hold all leaders and staff accountable for meeting (or exceeding) those standards. Be bold with praise and encouragement when leaders and staff deliver performance the right way. Moral courage will help you conduct those needed difficult conversations along the path towards your desired culture.

What successful or not-quite-successful difficult conversations have you experienced over your career? Share your insights in the comments section below.


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Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


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itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Culture Change Leader’s Secret: Consistency!

The journey to become a high performing, values aligned organization is both intense and gratifying. Senior leaders may not be aware of it, but they are both the sponsors and drivers of the organization’s current culture.

When leading a culture change initiative, scrutiny of senior leader plans, decisions, and actions increases heavily. I tell senior leaders that they’ll never be able to run a yellow light in a traffic signal in their town again! Yes, even senior leader behavior far from the workplace is scrutinized.

Here’s a great example. A client recently shared an interesting perspective about his boss, a gentleman he’d been working with for over a year. His boss – let’s call him Tom – is a fabulous champion of Blanchard’s culture change process. Tom has effectively led culture change initiatives at his last two organizations and has begun work to refine the culture of his current organization. Tom started with his senior leadership team by sharing his leadership point of view – his philosophy of leadership – and his values. He asked his direct reports to hold him accountable to those values and the valued behaviors Tom has defined.

In addition, Tom chartered his senior leadership team to refine that group’s purpose, values, behaviors, and norms to ensure everything they do helps the business grow and succeed and is consistent with their agreements.

The client’s comment unintentionally described the scrutiny Tom is under. He said, “I keep waiting for Tom to be inconsistent.” Two things are clear – Tom has really put himself on the line by declaring his values and asking his staff to hold him accountable for those values. And, for over a year, Tom hasn’t yet acted in conflict with his declared values. That’s really powerful!

Senior Leaders Must Model Declared Values

It is extremely important for senior leaders to model the desired values and valued behaviors – every day, with every interaction. Unless senior leaders embrace the new expectations, demonstrating valued behaviors, the change will not take hold – and senior leader credibility will suffer. Too often senior leaders “manage by announcements,” publishing a set of expectations or rules that they declare are to be embraced from that moment forward, yet they do not actively demonstrate those expectations themselves. No wonder leader credibility suffers in many organizations. Only when senior leaders model desired valued behaviors will the rest of the organization trust those leaders . . . follow those leaders . . . and model those desired valued behaviors themselves.

Does Your Culture Serve Customers, Employees, and Stakeholders Equally Well?

If the existing culture is not serving customers, employees, or stakeholders consistently, it may be time for a change.

Senior leaders can refine their organization’s existing culture by doing three things:

  • First, clarify performance expectations and gain employee agreement on those expectations.
  • Second, define values in behavioral terms and gain employee agreement to demonstrate those behaviors.
  • Finally, hold themselves and all organizational leaders, managers and staff accountable for both performance and values.

Most senior leaders have not experienced successful culture change. Even fewer, across the globe, have led successful culture change. When you are ready, we’re here to help.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Memorial Day: Remember Those Who Lost Their Lives in American Wars

Monday May 31, 2010, is the USA’s annual Memorial Day celebration, a time to remember the sacrifices made by US service men and women who gave their lives to protect our country and the freedoms we hold so dear. I wanted to learn more about the history of this holiday, so went to the US Department of Veterans Affairs web site for more information.

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans established “Decoration Day” as a time to decorate the graves of our war dead with flowers. Some communities had already held springtime tributes as early as 1866. It wasn’t until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor all who have died in American wars.

In 1971 Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, scheduled for the last Monday in May.

Throughout our country’s history, our national culture has expected Americans to demonstrate appreciation for those called to serve and for those who lost their lives serving our country. That has not always happened (witness the reception our Vietnam War veterans received upon their return from duty in the 70’s), but expressions of gratitude are consistently demonstrated today for the men and women currently serving and for those who lost their lives in service to our country.

A crowd of about 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery, approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance. The tradition of placing small American flags on each grave began at that first ceremony and continues at many national cemeteries today.

Over 1.1 million Americans have died in the nation’s wars. Let us honor their sacrifice by taking part in the “National Moment of Remembrance,” enacted by Congress in late 2000. Wherever you are at 3pm local time on Memorial Day, pause for a minute of silence to remember those who have died in service to our nation.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How Aligned are your Company’s Vision, Strategy, Systems, and Goals?

I’m looking forward to a visit with my chiropractor this week before I start back on the road. I know that my day-to-day activity can cause my body’s bones and musculature to get out of alignment. Two back surgeries and nearly six decades of gravity take their toll. Dr. Doug’s magic touch helps release muscle groups that hold me in an ineffective, unhealthy posture.

I swear by the magic touch of another practitioner, as well: Becky, my massage therapist and acupuncturist. Her work has increased my awareness of bad habits and muscle tension that get in the way of the body’s energy flow. When my “chi” is flowing freely, I’m more present, more focused, more at peace, and more able to apply my skills and enthusiasm in effective ways.

As a human who was brought up valuing Western medicine (“just take this pill, it’ll be all better!”), the effectiveness of their work has helped my beliefs change to embrace these very powerful approaches.

Alignment in Organizations

These experts’ work on my physical, mental, and spiritual being have also increased my appreciation for alignment within organizations. When I engage with senior leaders to help them refine their organization’s culture, I start with interviewing senior leadership team members and select managers, supervisors, and front line staff to learn how the culture operates today.

When I compare current practices with the best practices of high performing, values aligned cultures, I consistently find unclear vision and strategy. Gaps typically include goals in one part of the organization that are in conflict with goals in other parts of the organization. Systems typically have evolved to support current practices, despite inconsistent quality, poor customer service experiences, and difficulty getting agreement about how to address daily issues.

Just as my mis-aligned skeletal structure and musculature cause me pain and difficulty in moving, mis-aligned organizational vision, strategy, structure, systems, and goals waste time and money, and cause conflict and poor productivity.

How can you learn if these key organizational elements are aligned? Ask this question of a random sample of leaders and front line staff: “What gets measured, monitored, and rewarded around here?” It is very likely that you will find that the culture emphasizes results and performance, yet doesn’t equally emphasize values or valued behaviors. You may also discover competing goals – a classic circumstance is the drive for sales creates division and friction in the delivery or manufacturing side of the business.

Start at the Top

Begin with the end in mind: revisit your organization’s vision of the future. What do you want to be to key stakeholders, who include customers and employees? Clearly state what your vision is, seek input from all staff, the communicate the final draft throughout the organization.

Formalize your organization’s strategy by answering questions like these:

  • What and/or who is your target market?
  • What do customers in that market need?
  • Which of your products and services best address those needs? Are there new products and services you could offer that address those needs more effectively than your current product/service mix does?
  • How will you communicate your solution(s) to that target market?
  • How will you know when you’ve made an impact in that market? What metrics will you use to gauge your success?

Formalize that strategy in a written statement. Share it with all employees to seek their insights, then publish your final draft and communicate it broadly throughout your organization.

Only after vision and strategy are clear can you take on mis-aligned systems and goals. Aligning these elements is a great deal of work that requires constant monitoring and refinement. But that’s what effective senior leaders do. Every day.

What alignment strategies work for you & your body – and for your work team? Share your insights in the comments sections below.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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