The Leadership Wonder Drug (But Careful, Use As Directed)

It’s a sentence that can make a huge difference in the workplace.

A real shot of motivation and inspiration that, if delivered at the right time and place, can spur your team to the pinnacle of success.

But if it’s overused, or delivered incorrectly, its potency can be radically reduced – or it could cause awful side effects.

What is this “leadership wonder drug”?

5 words.

“You did a great job”

Giving praise to our teammates is one of the critical elements of effective leadership.  This kind of positive reinforcement provides a psychological boost that can lead to greater and greater achievement, because it plays to basic human needs of acceptance and recognition.

These 5 words can mean more than any bonus, raise, or promotion – but the deliverer must be careful, and like any wonder drug, the directions for use need to be followed to the letter.

Let’s set out some clear “directions” for the maximum effectiveness  of “you did a great job“:

  • It should only be used to praise performance which exceeds an established “norm”.
  • Those norms should be carefully calibrated and modified as the team is built and executes its duties & responsibilities.
  • It needs to be used as close to the completion of said performance as possible.
  • It should be delivered personally – face to face is best, followed by a telephone call, or a handwritten letter.  E-mail and text should only be used if that’s the only option available to meet the timing requirement noted above.
  • It needs to be delivered with high enthusiasm and a positive tone.

And how about the side effects and risks?

  • If used to praise “normal” performance,  it could cause a case of lowered expectations, which would spread, virus-like, among the team.
  • If used too often, it would lead to an overdose or an addiction, which could cause a loss of leader credibility.
  • If norms are not calibrated properly, the team could suffer from a bad case of inertia.
  • If its application is delayed, it significantly lessens its effectiveness.
  • If not delivered personally, or worse yet, carelessly or too casually, it could cause the exact opposite effect, and act as a disincentive.

Indeed, there’s a lot more to this 5-word sentence than meets the eye.  Yes, praise is good, and yes, there’s probably not enough of it going on in a lot of workplaces.  But it certainly shouldn’t be thrown around like candy either.

It also needs to be balanced by effectively dealing with those who are under-performing against those same norms – the other side of what I call the management spectrum.

So, if you are looking for that difference maker in your workplace, take Dr. Starbucker’s advice and get a prescription for the wonder drug “You did a great job” – but be sure to read all the fine print in the directions before you start using it.

Good luck, and good leading!!


If you liked this post, be sure to download my FREE e-book, “Leadership From a Glass Half-Full – The 5 Lessons You Need To Learn Before You Jump Into The Pool”


  1. says

    Great post! Thanks for sharing! I especially like what you said about being careful to praise normal performance. I have always heard that it is best to deliver the compliment and specifically refer to the task or project that the person completed with success. Also, depending on the individual’s personality, it might be a good idea to give the compliment in front of a group.

  2. says

    I agree with Brian that praising in public (within the team is best unless it is a huge deal, then in front of as large a group as possible) is a positive. In fact, I seldom offer praise for exceptional performance anywhere except in a team meeting. And, to the point of immediacy, I will call an impromptu meeting if necessary to get the praise out in a timely manner.

    Great definition of the best context around “You did a great job” Terry!

  3. Amber Cleveland says

    Thanks for this post Terry.

    I think that it is also important to be specific. “You did a great job” gets diluted when used too frequently. Or when it is too vague, sometimes that means that someone is “blowing smoke.” For example, after a recent open house, it was nice to hear, “You did a great job.” It was even nicer to hear: “Thank you for everything that you did to make the open house a success. The turnout, the agenda, and the staffing were on target.” It indicates that the person paying the compliment actually has some idea of the receivers role in the project/issue they are commenting about.



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