“We believe that what is rewarding gets done. We can never pay people enough to care — to care about their products, services, communities, or families, or even the bottom line. True leaders tap into peoples’ hearts and minds, not merely their hands and wallets. — James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations

Arden planted a 50-acre field of wheat that was now golden brown and very full for harvest. It was a sight to touch the heart of any farmer. Uncle Harry came to visit. Arden proudly took him out to look at the field of wheat. Harry looked around, put his hand over his eyes to peer into the distance, and asked “Is that a stone on the hill?” pointing to a boulder too large to move in the middle of the field. He said nothing about the field of wheat. Arden was crushed by his lack of enthusiasm.

The Barker family talked about this many times over the years. A few years later, their daughter, Brenda, had just finished cutting and trimming the family’s huge lawn. Arden came home and surveyed her work from the kitchen window. “You missed a patch under the trees,” he pointed out. Brenda came over to him, put one arm around her father’s waist and her other hand over her eyes to peer off into the distance and asked, “Is that a stone on the hill?”

Highly effective leaders energize others by noticing and recognizing the field of wheat. They thank, appreciate, recognize, and celebrate accomplishments. We all draw a lot of energy from sincere recognition and honest appreciation. It’s like a warm ray of verbal sunshine. We all know (and dread) the critics who carry big magnifying glasses around to get a good close look at everyone’s imperfections. They seem to feel that their mission in life is to ignore the golden field of wheat and point out the stones on the hill. As bosses their attitude is “Your recognition is you get to keep your job.” As spouses it’s “Of course I love you, I married you didn’t I?” As parents it’s “You’re doing fine because you’re not being punished or asked to leave.”

One study showed that 46 percent of people who quit their jobs did so because they felt unappreciated. No doubt as many kids and spouses gave up on their families for the same reason. A key leadership question is whether we’re building a thank you or spank you culture.

It’s all too easy to confuse our positive feelings or good intentions about others with actually expressing our appreciation for their contributions. But unexpressed good feelings don’t mean squat to anyone else. In other cases, we wait for formal recognition activities rather than giving more frequent and personal positive feedback.

A team leader at a large company thought he wasn’t doing well because he never got any feedback and his boss seemed constantly dissatisfied with his work. So he began looking for another job. As he was getting close to leaving, the company had a large meeting. He was given a gold pen as Team Leader of the Year among hundreds of other team leaders. After that he redoubled his efforts to find another job. A few months later he was gone to a company that show their appreciation more than once every year or two.

Our energy levels are charged from internal and external sources. Highly self-directed people have strong inner resources to draw their energy from. But most people’s energy levels are highly dependent on the responses they get from others, such as teachers, parents, spouses, bosses, team members, or peers that they look to for direction or support. Too many “energy vampires” suck out the energy of others with criticism, pessimism, and apathy. Highly effective leaders boost the energy of others with their optimism, passion, and appreciation. They work hard to give people early and frequent tastes of success. The recognition and celebration recharges everyone and makes him or her eager to do more.

Our own feeling of accomplishment is a matter of perception. It’s easy to focus on what we haven’t yet achieved. We can drain our own energy by dwelling on our setbacks and disappointments. Little Cindy, a seven-year-old optimist, provides a good model of the balance between striving for ever bigger roles in life while also appreciating the roles we get. Cindy was trying out for a part in a school play. Her mother said she really had set her heart on being in it, though she was afraid that Cindy would not be chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, Cindy rushed up to her mother when she came to pick her up. Cindy’s eyes were shining with pride and excitement. “Guess what Mom,” she shouted, “I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.”