A favorite ritual this time of year is decorating our Christmas tree while the movie Christmas Vacation is playing in the background. I’ve watched it often enough to recite most of the dialogue. But after repeated viewings, it still lives up to its tagline – “Yule crack up!” Yes, I do realize how pathetic my tradition and that pun are!

A movie sub-plot is when the main character, Clark Griswold, (played by Chevy Chase), finds out his heartless boss, Frank Shirley, has cut out Christmas bonuses to save money. Clark’s been with the company for 17 years and has come to expect his annual bonus as part of his compensation. That year Clark developed a new product that’s been a huge hit. His boss mentions it in a speech at a trade show, but gives Clark no recognition, appreciation — or bonus.

Jack Zenger just published a 10-minute podcast addressing the key leadership issue — Why Do So Many Managers Avoid Giving Praise? He reports that 37% of people taking Zenger Folkman’s self-assessment don’t give positive reinforcement. Zenger Folkman also found that receiving positive feedback colored their relationships.

Highly effective leaders — and especially extraordinary coaches — thank, appreciate, recognize, and celebrate accomplishments. We’re highly energized by sincere recognition and honest appreciation. It’s like a warm ray of verbal sunshine.

Numerous studies show that a key reason many people who quit their jobs leave is because they feel 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. Brains follow hearts to where they’re appreciated.

Reflecting on his career, William James, the founder of modern psychology, said, “I now perceive one immense omission in my psychology — the deepest principal of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

It’s all too easy to confuse our positive feelings or good intentions about others with expressing our appreciation for their contributions. But unexpressed good feelings don’t mean squat to anyone else. It’s like wrapping a present and not giving it. It’s not just the thought that counts.

Some managers give recognition as if they expect a receipt. Other managers wait for formal recognition activities rather than giving regular 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. After that, he redoubled his efforts to find another job. A few months later, he was gone to a company that doesn’t “do their recognition thing” 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 whom 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 encourages him or her eager to do more.

The Barker family are long-time friends of my wife Heather’s family. An often-told family tale became a fable about recognition. Once upon a time…Arden Barker planted a field of wheat that was now golden brown and ripe for harvest. It was a sight to warm 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 and grunted. He then 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. He said nothing about the field of wheat. Arden was crushed by his lack of recognition.

A few years later, their daughter, Brenda, had just finished cutting and trimming the family’s huge country 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 dad’s waist and her other hand over her eyes to peer off into the distance, and asked, “Is that a stone on the hill?”

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.

Would your team say that you notice and recognize the fields of wheat or point out the stones?