Appreciation, Diversity and Your Career

Last week, I had the honor of speaking to a chapter of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers) in Plano, Texas. We got off to a delayed start because we were temporarily locked out of the office building where we were supposed to meet. The sun setting in the western sky was glaring into our eyes at the worst possible angle, so a group of us ducked behind a large pillar for shade.

As we huddled together in that confined area, I asked several of the members what type of engineering work they did. One woman explained that she was also an engineering math tutor, which sounded to me like a daunting task on many levels. She said she encouraged her students not to be intimidated by the complex problems, but simply to view them as another language. Like Chinese or French, Java or C++. Just for the record, I’m not personally fluent in any of those languages (engineering math included), but I do think that’s a brilliant perspective to help students tackle a tough subject. The point is, I can appreciate the benefits of the approach even if I don’t fully understand any details about differential equations or vector analysis. Appreciation doesn’t require complete comprehension.

As a leadership coach, I frequently talk with my clients about the importance of expressing appreciation for all of the unique contributions made by every team member. Major and minor. Showing gratitude is essential for productivity, even in the smallest companies. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t take enough time to appreciate the hard work of their team members and colleagues—maybe because they don’t fully understand what’s going on behind the scenes. And that’s a big problem.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that individuals voluntarily leaving work cite lack of appreciation as one of the major reasons for their departures. Plus, while a large majority of supervisors claim that they regularly express gratitude to workers who perform well, only about 17% of employees report that those supervisors do a good job of communicating that appreciation.* Apparently something is lost in translation.

Perhaps the engineering math example helps to shed some light on that disconnect. Corporate supervisors (especially those several levels up) may not fully understand every diverse task handled by each of their team members, but appreciation doesn’t require mastery. It does, however, require interest, curiosity and effort. The CEO might not be able to personally trouble-shoot the company’s IT problems, but she can certainly appreciate the business impact of fast response and hard work to get the network back online. Taking the time to recognize that effort and express appreciation can make a world of difference. Think increased morale, higher productivity and more efficient teamwork.

The most successful companies make appreciation a standard part of their corporate culture. Smart leaders actively search to find and acknowledge the diverse contributions of team members. And they gratefully celebrate the benefits that come when everybody brings something unique and delicious to the party. Because really, nobody wants to be at the potluck dinner when all 15 people show up with green-bean casserole, right?

Please share your thoughts.

* Employee Appreciation Is Vital to Productivity by Maria Elena Duron (April 3, 2014;