Leaders Are…Celebrators

“Did we remember to celebrate success?”

In our “Leaders Are…” series, we’ve covered trusting, curious, coaches, self-aware, challengers, and are influential. You may be thinking, celebrating, now that sounds easy. I used to the think the same thing. Yet, often, when I ask leaders what they do to celebrate when their team meets or exceeds a goal, I see shrugged shoulders. I hear things like, “well, they are just doing their jobs” or “I tell them good job” or “they don’t like to be embarrassed by recognition.” While acknowledging a job well done is important, and sometimes sufficient, leaders that recognize their teams in a way meaningful to them consistently win.

Celebration is simple. First, set a clear direction. Follow up with the team. Then, celebrate the success, big or small.

Set a clear direction

Have the end in mind. Teams that know what good looks like make it happen. At the onset of a project or initiative, collaborating as a team to define the goals is key. When teams participate in visualizing success, they are far more likely to achieve it. In all of my leadership development coaching, I see far greater results at the end of our programs when the leaders facilitate goals with their teams. In any project or initiative kick off, make it a habit to ask “what does success look like?” Model it for other teams, encourage others to ask. After seven times, the habit sticks and the culture makes it a norm.

Follow up

The art of the follow up. For me, scenes from Office Space conjure up in my head. Everyone remembers this scene. Too many follow ups are dangerous. It creates feelings of mistrust and prevents the team from getting their actual work done. The best follow ups are done in natural conversations. Lots of teams schedule regular standing meetings. In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni clearly outlines four types of meetings. In it, he states that he can usually tell the health of organization by observing its meetings. Standing meetings are great for long-term projects with multiple team members and stakeholders. One-on-ones between employees and managers are also helpful to remember to find the time to catch up.

Leaders that are naturally available to their team, and stop by their offices, or call at the beginning of end of the day to check in, often facilitate a genuine dialogue. It’s these naturally occurring conversations where the team member shares what’s going well and what could be going better, and the leader coaches to success. It’s the time to follow up on the success question and see what progress the team is making to achieving its goals. Great leaders ask, “what is one thing I can do to help you?” Team members have no choice but to think of something. The leader removes the barriers or helps the team member self-discover how to remove the barriers, and voila, results.

Celebrate success

As easy as this sounds, this is the obvious step leaders miss. Why? I suspect we are anxiously moving to the next big idea, and forget to stop and smell the roses. For us results-oriented leaders, you know it’s true. When we do take the time to celebrate, it’s important that it is team-focused. Some like public recognition, some like happy hours, or some like a few hours back to spend with their families. You know your team, just make sure you reward them with a celebration they will enjoy. Let the team vote, brainstorm ideas together – make them feel a part of the celebration. The more you can tie the celebration to the success the better. I knew a team that finished a value chain marketing research study on rice and celebrated with rice sake in the leader’s office before the end of the day. They still remember that success, and are motivated to achieve more.

A good leader I know often asks in project debrief meetings rhetorically, “so, what are we going to do now?” We would all say, document this or close out this, and he would maintain eye contact and ask again. The first time he did it, I thought he was kidding. But, if no one else said it, he would say, “did we remember to celebrate success?” The cultural norm took root, and we always remembered to celebrate success, no matter how big or small.

How will you celebrate with your team?