Compliments are a cornerstone of leadership. One of the most important things good leaders do is see more in others than they see in themselves. Compliments are the warmest way of expressing that.
It’s good to improve your complimenting skills for many reasons. My favorite one is that the exercise of looking into another person to see what is genuinely great is a fundamental best practice of leadership. Because the idea is to pull that greatness out, show it to them, let them see it and feel it so they believe it, and thus inspire and enlarge them — and give them another tool or strength.
And that’s what you do when creating a powerful compliment — you see something great in someone that they may not be aware of, or that they’re aware of but that others don’t notice. When done well, it will change the way people feel about themselves and about you. Even more importantly, it will change who they believe they are and who they believe they can become. And that is the single most important thing a leader can do.
If it is not sincere, it’s not a compliment, it’s flattery. Flattery is manipulative and is done for the self, out of insecurity. Paying a compliment is always done for the other, and it exhibits tremendous confidence.
The power of a sincere compliment
The most important key to effective praise is specificity. A general comment is fine and can provide a lift, because it shows someone you care about them. But it takes a specific observation to truly inspire and actually change someone, because it shows you not only care about them, but that you genuinely know them, and that what you see is uniquely valuable.
The act of discerning who and what someone really is, reveals your high regard for them. Do that well, and your person will feel ten feet tall. And if you’re a leader who does this consistently, that person will go through brick walls for you in support of your vision.
Those who are the best at giving compliments are those most invested in finding greatness in others, in highlighting it and helping them believe in it and then use it. If you want to help yourself become more skilled at delivering compliments, start by becoming enthralled by the greatness of the individuals you work with.
Like so many elements of masterful leadership, this requires putting others first. Paying good compliments will help remind you consistently that you aren’t the boss, you are the support system, and in this way compliments will help you grow and improve as much as they help the receiver do so.
You can become great at giving compliments, if you are genuinely committed to inspiring others and helping them discover their highest self:
7 tips for giving a great compliment
- Be specific. This is how you communicate your considered understanding of the person—which is, ultimately, the highest compliment of all.
- Be purposeful. It’s not about getting someone to like you. It’s about lifting other people, helping them grow, changing how they regard themselves, affirming their strengths and virtues…It’s about the other, not the self.
- Keep it simple. You can be specific and still keep it simple.
- Word it carefully. The delivery does matter. Choosing words carefully helps communicate your sincerity, and is necessary for specificity, both important ingredients of effective compliments.
- Be spontaneous: Some compliments may be a long time brewing. But learn the power of handing them out regularly, the moment you see something that merits recognition, however small. Spontaneity also helps convey sincerity.
- Be obvious. The easiest thing to take for granted in a work environment, is excellence. As a result, we often get complimented least on our signal strengths. Take nothing for granted—especially the kinds of excellence that we are always surrounded by, but which don’t announce themselves precisely because they are executed with sophistication and skill.
- Be personal. It’s vitally important to compliment people on excellence in their work. But remember that all too often, virtues of character go unremarked. Think specifically about how the people around your person benefit from their fundamental goodness, and share that with them.
Keep developing your skill at delivering compliments. Well-crafted and well-delivered compliments are a key to moving people in the directions you want to help them go, and grow.
Seek their greatness, not yours, be specific as hell, discard your ego, and let fly.