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Proud of What You Do?

| November 19, 2019

by Jim Bruce

… to be truly effective, you need to be!

Bill Taylor, Robert J. Smith Professor of Accountancy at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business and an expert on subjective performance evaluation, has said it this way: “… I’m convinced that if you truly want people to elevate their performance, you have first to build up their pride. It’s much more likely that people will do things in exceptional ways if they believe deeply in what they do.”2  Taylor made this statement in his recent HRB essay right after he attended a performance, “From the Ground Up,”3  produced at Wake Forrest University by their Facilities and Campus Services groups. What this performance did was to showcase the pride individuals in the university’s service groups have in their work. Taylor thinks that people do exceptional things because they believe deeply in what they do.
Jon Katzenbach, a well-known management consultant, who has done significant research on team performance, makes the case for “pride” in his book, Why Pride Matters More Than Money.4  In his book, Katzenbach argues that if you want your employees to improve their performance you must first build up their pride in their work. Taylor, with quotes from Katzenbach, puts it this way:  in their work, “Katzenbach argues, that pride grows out of ‘the relentless, pursuit of worthwhile endeavors.’ This ‘intrinsic pride’ becomes ‘institution-building’ when it ‘prompts the kind of effective customer-focused behaviors’ that distinguish an organization from its rivals. Commitment based on ‘self-serving or materialistic gains,’ he adds, is ‘short-term, transient, and risky.’ It doesn’t unleash ‘the kind of emotional commitment’ that builds ‘long-term sustainability.”2
So, the question, what do I do as a leader to help those who work with me in those hard, often unglamorous jobs, to build up their pride? You, and most of those who work with you, want to be able to take pride in their work. Both work as an individual and as a team. I can really take pride in my work when the work is recognized – by my co-workers, my manager, my clients and all sorts of others. It’s not just me who thinks I did something good or even great.
That doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? Don’t people, just naturally, recognize the good work of their colleagues, of someone who provides a service to you? In fact, in many places it is a really big deal. As many of you know, I spent about 46 years of my life at M.I.T., first as a grad student and then as a faculty member with several successive administrative responsibilities, including being MIT’s first CIO for a 20-year term. During much of this time, M.I.T. was well known for being a “praise-free” zone. By that I mean, not many people would comment to any other individual that what she or he had done was a very good piece of work. Or, even say thank you for something you had done for them. I’m sure that you have been in cultures where a similar behavior was the norm.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Steve Goldstein5 reports that he once worked with the founder and CEO of a company that really understood how powerfully strong culture is. “Every Monday morning, he would stand before the entire team of 250-plus employees and read a list of shout-outs to those employees who did something new, extra and notable.” 
At one of the schools where I coached several years ago, one of the IT teams was pulling an all-nighter to replace some security related servers. A person on a different team, recognizing that the staff pulling the all-nighter would get hungry, picked up food in the late evening and fed those working. Now, that was something worth recognizing.
What’s important is that recognition is given to excellent work. So, think about doing some sleuthing and have something good to say about each of your team members. For example, talk about the impact of a person’s work on some specific others.
Another way of building pride is to give your staff more autonomy in their work. Ask them to do the planning and come back and review the plans with you. If you’re already doing that, send them off to do the planning, the execution, etc. and then check in. The idea is that as their capabilities increase, give them more responsibility. And, when they do good work praise them directly and in front of a larger group. Praise and recognition builds pride that fuels still more better work.
Having someone validate your work by saying to you “good job,” and going on to say why he or she thinks it’s a good job can really make your day, can make you proud of what you did, can serve as encouragement for you to work even harder. And, so can the words “Thank you” from a client or from a colleague whom you have helped. 
Having pride in your work is important and it’s OK to be proud of what you have been able to do. It enables you to do more good things and it makes you feel good.
Make it a great week for your team and for you.  .  .  .  .  jim
 Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates.  He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

  1. Pride – Wikipedia defines pride this way: “Pride means having a feeling of being good and worthy. The adjective is proud. The word pride can be used in a good sense as well as in a bad sense. In a good sense it means having a feeling of self-respect. People can be satisfied with their achievements. They can be proud of something good that they have done. They can be proud of (or take pride in) their work. They might be proud of their son or daughter or husband or wife or anyone else who is close to them and who has done something good. People can be proud of their country (patriotism). The opposite would be to be ashamed of someone or something. In a bad sense, pride can mean that someone has an exaggerated sense of feeling good. This might mean that someone has no respect for what other people do, only respect for what he or she does. Someone who is described as proud may be arrogant. The word is used in this sense in the saying: “Pride comes before a fall” or “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Prov.16:18 (meaning that someone is so overconfident that he or she might soon have a disaster).
  2. Bill Taylor “Do You Give Employees a Reason to Feel Proud of What They Do?” Harvard Business Review, November 2019.
  3. From the Ground Up, a show produced by the Facilities and Campus Services groups at Wake Forrest University, October 3, 4, and 5, 2019.
  4. Jon R. Katzenbach, Why Pride Matters More Than MoneyCrown Business, 2003.
  5. Steve Goldstein, 3 Simple Ways to Motivate Your Employees and Make them Proud, Inc., The Morning Newsletter, January 8, 2018.