Contributions Matter: 3 Strategies for Leaders to Recognize Their Teams


I had the good fortune of coaching an executive who was responsible for running a 1,200 person manufacturing facility.

He was a dominant leader: driven, motivated by change, loved to control his environment, and highly action oriented.

You all know this leader.

He had a strong bias for action and, as a result, left some dead bodies in his wake. These types of leaders are often pulled into situations to turn the ship around.

Oftentimes many of these dominant, forceful leaders nearly shipwreck themselves, trying to keep the heads above water, grasping for something to keep afloat.

What would magically lift him out of troubled waters?


Acknowledgement from his manager that he was doing a great job.

After working with this results-oriented leader for 18 months, tears came to his eyes during a coaching session. He had worked long hours for years, putting everything of importance in his life as a second or third priority behind his job – including his family and personal health.

Amidst the tears, he said to me:
“I just wish that my manager would tell me I’m doing a good job.”

I saw in this man’s eye that even the most dominant of human beings – who often could be quoted as a “Why do you need recognition, that’s what you get paid for?” type of leader – has this basic and core need to know that his contributions mattered.

It was really at that point in time that I recognized that this was a human need that applied to everyone.

Contributions Do Matter: The Missing Link in the Workplace

That brings us to the third of 6 human needs that I outlined in my book, “The Deeply Human Workplace,” the need to feel and know:

  • that your contributions are valued
  • that your voice is heard

It’s not any more complicated than that.

Of all the 6 needs in our model, this is the need that cuts most deeply to our sense of self-worth.

Not surprisingly, most stories of management or teams gone wrong links back to this core human workplace need.

The Fear Behind Contributions Matter

What lies underneath this core need to be recognized and acknowledged?

A fear of not being good enough.

Unfortunately, it’s linked to an evolutionary function.

Human beings tend to overlook the positive and focus on the negative because our survival instincts assume that the consequence of overlooking the negative outweighs the costs of overlooking the positive.

But in the workplace, when we overlook the positive, it is particularly costly.

In May 2022, McKinsey released an article noting why employees were leaving jobs without another offer in hand.

The number one reason?

Uncaring leaders.

When people don’t feel valued, at best they’ll be guarded and hesitant. At worst, they’ll look for another organization to utilize their skills.

3 Strategies to Ensure People Feel Like They Matter

Strategy #1: Understand how people prefer to be recognized and rewarded.

It’s different for everyone and the opportunity is to move beyond a one-sized-fits-all-approach. How do you do this? Simply ask.

In many of our executive team development programs, we conduct an exercise where everyone shares:

  • what’s important to them
  • what frustrates them
  • how you can adapt your communication style for them, and
  • how they prefer to be acknowledged

This isn’t just the role of the team leader to understand this information. This is in the best interest of every team member.

Strategy #2: Think About Building Blocks of Recognition

Not all contributions are equal. For example, a team member who saves the company $100,000 should be recognized differently than someone who worked a few extra hours one evening.

We must layer our recognition efforts so that the perceived value of the recognition is aligned with the contribution that was made. Give that team member a $25 Starbucks gift card for saving the company such an enormous sum of money and your effort will likely result in an irate and infuriated employee.

Strategy #3: Link Your Recognition to the Big PictureBe Specific

In research outlined in The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, when the basics are in place (for example: clear goals and regular feedback), recognition can be a business accelerator. But using empty statements like “nice work” and “good job” have no real benefit.

Instead, share the specific behavior the team member exemplified and then link that behavior to an organizational value or a quarterly goal or objective. You just might find your team member repeating that behavior more often.

Never Forget Your Impact as a Leader

My Dad is an incredible man. He taught my brothers and I how to be solid human beings.

Some of my most memorable experiences were our times as a family sitting around the dinner table.

Almost inevitably, I would hear my mother and father catching up about the day and hear mention of the “Old Man,” the nickname attributed to my father’s boss and owner of the construction company where he worked.

It was a nightly routine hearing about the trials and tribulations derived from the Old Man.  When my father was unexpectedly let go after 18 years of dedication to the Old Man and the company, the impact reverberated throughout the family for months and years to come.

Leaders: never forget the impact you have on people within and beyond the workplace.

Your impact extends beyond the boardroom table – even to the kitchen table.

And when people feel like their contributions matter, those conversations around the kitchen table change as well.

Get access to our free Leading Virtual Teams Toolkit & Resources – just visit this link: You’ll receive our Leading with Deep Humanity training video with Sal Silvester, a Workplace Needs Toolkit, and much more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *