Participation Trophy Praise

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with an amazing group of women. There were business owners, retired women, young women just entering their careers … a wide variety of skills and expertise all with a shared passion. Their entire mission is focused on lifting others up. Pretty amazing!

I love being around women who are committed to helping other women. I feel strongly that those of us with a little experience under our belt should be helping other women grow in their expertise which in turn, will help them grow in their self-confidence, and their leadership ability. Being a member of a Lean In Circle, I’m all too aware that “Imposter Syndrome” is a real thing that affects far too many of us. We all want to be great at what we do, that’s human nature. And we work hard by learning and growing in our chosen field. It takes time to learn to value our own expertise enough to develop self-confidence and executive presence. We can, and should, be intentional in helping to grow the next generation of women leaders.

One thing that doesn’t help? Participation trophies. You know what I mean. Those trophies kids receive for showing up at soccer practice, whether they practiced hard or not. Whether they exhibited outstanding sportsmanship or not. The trophies they receive for literally just showing up.

Participation trophy praise. It’s not helpful and in fact can be very destructive. We’ve all seen complete but lackluster marketing materials. We’ve all listened to talks that, though well prepared with great content, were delivered poorly. We can thank people for their effort without saying that they did a fantastic job and fawning over them for, well, just showing up. That’s not helpful.

Imagine if those producers of content – the aspiring marketing pro or the public speaker – believe that what they produced was great. What if they believe you when you heap on the praise for less than their best? And then, what if they showcase their piece or their talk online or profile it in a face-to-face business meeting? Imagine they meet with someone who doesn’t pull punches. Imagine the hit their self-confidence will take.

The worst thing we can do is be less than truthful with each other. There are ways to offer constructive support, and yes, it takes time to come up with the right words, but it’s oh so important. Hopefully, those up-and-coming stars ask for feedback. But what if they don’t? Could we say something like, “I appreciate the thought you put into this work. What you have to say is important. Have you thought about [insert idea here]?” Convey appreciation and then take a team approach to polishing. For a speaker with a lackluster presentation, we might say, “Your message was so valuable. I hope you get to share it again. Would you allow me to be your practice audience before your next talk?” You get the idea. It’s all about how we communicate; both the intention behind our words, and the words we choose.

Rather than handing out participation trophies, let’s dig in and do the hard work of leading by coming up with the right words to help each other shine. The next person who benefits from that kind of thinking could be you. And on that note, I hope you’re always asking for feedback and have considered your response when on the receiving end. It can be uncomfortable to be on both sides, and we don’t always get it right, but it’s so important that we get good at both giving and receiving constructive support.

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