May 6, 2021

Showing leadership values through who we choose to celebrate | Mahan Tavakoli Partnering Leadership Insight

Showing leadership values through who we choose to celebrate | Mahan Tavakoli Partnering Leadership Insight

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli discusses the importance of appreciating your team members and celebrating well-planned effort rather than just celebrating success. He also shares why who we choose to celebrate and what we choose to celebrate makes a big difference in nurturing a growth mindset and a great organizational culture.    

Some highlights:

  • Appreciation in the workplace and the underwhelming statistics
  • The magic ratio of positive versus negative interactions
  • How to incorporate sincere appreciation in your leadership
  • Why we need to start celebrating effort versus just celebrating success
  • How recognizing effort led to the success of Amazon echo
  • The importance of celebrating the right things in nurturing a growth mindset and a great organizational culture


Mahan Tavakoli’s Webinar for Georgetown University: Your Team Doesn't Want Your "Feedback:"' Build Greater Connection, Retention, and Results

Dr. John Gottman, psychological researcher, clinician, and author

Carol Dweck, psychologist and author

Aidan McCullen, author and host & founder of The Innovation Show 

➡ Listen to Aidan McCullen’s Partnering Leadership podcast episode here

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:


Mahan Tavakoli:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited to have you along with me on this journey of learning and growth. On Tuesdays, conversations with magnificent change makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region, and then on Thursdays, conversations with global thought leaders, authors of leadership books that I find to be truly impactful as we learn and grow and increase our leadership impact.

As you know, the first Thursday of every month, I share some of my own thoughts on leadership and how we can all become more impactful, more purpose driven leaders.  

This month, I want to talk  about appreciation and celebration. Now I truly appreciate you. And as I have conversations with the changemakers and authors, I sincerely tell them how much I appreciate them, but it's really important for us to keep in mind that appreciation is one of those things that is desperately needed in the work environment and desperately lacking.

Maybe I'm not talking about you and the people you manage, but think about it for a second. Do you think you are being overly recognized and appreciated in the work environment? And typically when I ask people this,  people think they are taking the time to appreciate others, but they feel underappreciated.

Now the statistics don't lie in this instance, 30% of people feel engaged at work, which is a pathetic number that has actually gotten worse since the end of 2020 for a whole host of reasons. And 79% of employees that quit their jobs say that lack of appreciation was a major reason for them leaving. 65% of Americans feel they aren't recognized even once per year.

Many supervisors and  leaders think they are recognizing people, but the reality is we do a heck of a lot less of it than we should. And 60% of people say they are even more motivated by recognition than by money. While at the same time, 82% of employees feel that their supervisor doesn't recognize them for what they do. Don't be part of the group that manages that 82%. Focus on recognizing people and doing it often and sincerely.

Right now, think to yourself who are some of my team members and how can I show them some sincere appreciation. There's a lot of great research on positive feedback and feedback is a subject that we can spend hours on. I will actually link in the show notes to a webinar I did with a colleague of mine for Georgetown on feedback. I think it's a great hour. I've got a lot of positive feedback on it. Pardon the pun. But it is a good one for you to watch if you want to understand more about how to do feedback right. 

But in that also, I mentioned research from Dr. John Gottman. He did his research primarily on happy marriages. Any of us in relationships also want to know what it takes to have a happy relationship. We all have to work on it. John Gottman was able to, through studies, more than seven studies with more than 95% accuracy, determine who would get a divorce. That is incredible. Predicting divorce. And the way he was able to do that was by determining positive interactions and appreciation as opposed to negative interactions. And there was a magic ratio. No, it wasn't one-to-one. It wasn't two to one. It was and, has consistently shown in research the magic ratio is five to one. Five positives, five elements of appreciation, five positive interactions. As opposed to one corrective one and one negative one, which is probably part of the reason  why even if you, as a manager or leader, think you are recognizing your team members, people tend to discount it. It is not up to them to understand and recognize that you are appreciating them. It is up to us to have more of that in the work environment, make sure we appreciate people a lot more. 

So think about your team members and think how you can incorporate sincere appreciation in your typical conversations, in your typical interactions, in your one-on-one meetings on a weekly basis. It is absolutely important in leadership. 

Now, another element that ties into this is what we choose as leaders to celebrate. Do we choose to celebrate success or do we choose to celebrate people having planned things out, taking a chance, even if it doesn't lead to success?  Those of you that have read about growth mindset and I'm a big advocate for growth mindset, Carol Dweck talks about parenting and ineffective parenting. Ineffective parents, in many instances, tell their kids how smart they are and just celebrate the successes. So what ends up happening is that the kids feel that well, if I did well, it's because I'm smart. So what happens if I don't do well? It's because I'm stupid. Rather than seeing it as something I need to put more effort into.

Same thing with respect to what we choose to celebrate in our organizations. Sometimes in tech companies, people say celebrate failure. I haven't seen anyone celebrate failure. However, the reverse of it also is not true. It's not punished failure. It is allow for failure and celebrate the effort, celebrate the learning, and celebrate the growth.  If you haven't listened to my conversation with Aidan McAllen, I absolutely love his podcast. Love his book, go back and listen to it. He also shares a beautiful example that is very indicative of the culture that Jeff Bezos has at Amazon and part of Amazon success.  

Many of you might not remember the Amazon fire phone.  The fact is Amazon fire phone didn't last that long. Amazon spent over $170 million on the fire phone and it ended up being a huge flop. So you would think that the people responsible for this flop would end up being fired. No one at Amazon celebrated the failure. However, what Bezos is quoted as saying  is you can't for one minute feel bad about the fire phone and fast forward what ended up happening is that freed was able to use some of the learnings for the fire phone to then introduce Amazon echo, which has become significant in so many different aspects for Amazon and Amazon success.

So for managers and supervisors that just celebrate and recognize success, what they are telling their team members is set goals that you are sure to achieve so we can celebrate, and we can recognize you. They make their teams not want to grow as much, not stretch as much, not challenge themselves as much.

So ask yourself, what types of goals do I ask my team members to set? And then when they don't achieve those objectives, how do I interact with them? What do I choose to celebrate?

So the point to keep in mind from this conversation is two things. One appreciate, appreciate, appreciate. Obviously do it sincerely. If the minute you walk up to someone or now in many instances, when you zoom with someone, if you tell them something positive and they are quiet waiting for what comes next, it's possibly because we have trained them to believe that the second we share something positive with them, something negative follows. What's very famously known as the crap sandwich. Tell them something positive, whack them with something negative, then tell them another thing that's positive. Don't ever do that. Share positives with people, show sincere appreciation, do it on a consistent basis. Our people are hungry for it and your team members will appreciate you for it and will become better and more likely and willing to grow.

And along with that ask yourself in our team, in our organization, what do we choose to celebrate? Do we choose to celebrate success? Or do we choose to celebrate well-planned out attempts at reaching hard goals? And even if people don't reach those hard goals, even if teams don't reach those hard goals, we celebrate the fact that they set that goal and they reached for it. They went for it. And the learning that came from it. 

Remember, this doesn't mean accepting poor performance. This doesn't mean accepting poor planning. However, it means celebrating the right things. What we choose to celebrate says a lot about us as individuals, says a lot about our organizations and says a lot about our community.

Finally think about it this way. If every time you drive with your family in the car, you look at the person that has the biggest house and say, "Oh my God, that is magnificent." It's nice to celebrate that. But if that's the only thing you celebrate, what message are you sending to everyone else in that car? That what matters is that kind of success. While on the other hand, if you see someone serving the homeless, if you celebrate that, what message is that sending to everyone in the car? I am not trying to say it is binary. It's not one or the other. However, we need to be mindful of what we celebrate.

Appreciate more, appreciate more, appreciate more. Choose who and what you celebrate. It makes a huge difference in how you lead your organization. 

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Truly, truly appreciate you being in this journey, along with me, as we learn and grow together.