The Applause of a Single Human Being

This post is an excerpt from my new book Ignite Your 
Leadership Expertise, which is available on

Recently I had an idea for one of my corporate leadership programs that has over 6,000 leaders enrolled. In an attempt to make the program communications more personal, I included an insightful reflection one of the participants “Mark” had shared at the bottom of the email message. I didn’t have to wait long for a response, but I was surprised who it came from. Within minutes an email reply appeared from our company president. He had cc’d me in a reply directly to Mark and included Mark’s entire executive chain of command. Our president began by thanking him for his engagement in the program and leadership in his function and ended with a “proud to have you on the team!”

I don’t know anyone busier than our company president, but he still found time to give a personal kudos. I don’t know Mark personally, but I bet he went home walking on air with a story to share with his family over dinner. “That was really fun to be a part of,” I thought. “I want to do this again.”

One of my favorite quotes of all-time comes from the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson, who observed, “The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.”

Each of us are “single human beings.” We qualify. Your applause is of great consequence, and so is mine.

Celebrating the success of others is definitely a “nice” thing to do, but if we think a little deeper, it has some real benefits for us as well.

Engage Them and Retain Them

According to a recent Gallup report, only one in three American workers reported receiving recognition or praise from their boss within the last week. Not only that, under-recognized employees are twice as likely to actively seek outside employment. It’s no wonder Dale Carnegie was so emphatic about “giving honest, sincere appreciation.” It’s much harder for employees to leave a boss who heaps appreciation their way.

Become More Aware of Others’ Contributions

You’ve heard the old adage that “what you see is what you get.” Need proof? Do you remember your last vehicle purchase? All of a sudden it probably seemed half the other drivers on the road had the same idea as you. You spotted the car everywhere. Of course the number of cars didn’t change, your awareness did. Become a good-finder and you may be surprised how much there is to notice.

Win Hearts… and Minds

How do you determine whether you trust someone? Is it because of logic or because of emotion? So often, we try to convince our followers and colleagues of the rationale for following our ideas when an emotional appeal would do a better job. When you win someone’s heart, they will often give you their mind as well. The opposite is not always the case.

Showing honest and sincere appreciation is a guaranteed way to appeal to the heart. Do this, and it will be much easier to sell your ideas as well.

Change the Culture

Have you ever been part of a “gotcha” culture? Unfortunately some people find fault like there is a reward for it. What if the “gotcha” was for doing something right, instead of wrong?

In Whale Done! Ken Blanchard observes that Sea World trainers have learned the best way to turn an animal into a top performer is through constant and positive, rather than negative, reinforcement. It’s the same with people. Not only that, when enough leaders jump on board, the entire culture can shift.

It’s a Ton of Fun!

When our president’s email reply came through, I’ll admit I didn’t even read it right away. As soon as I realized what it was, I had to find a colleague to share it with. Even though I was an observer, it was the highlight of my day. We all have the ability to make someone else’s day – and by extension, our own. Words and gestures matter. Even if you have a reputation for being gruff, the invitation is open. You’ll be the one who benefits most.

Speaking of celebrating the success of others, I gave it a shot recently when a colleague Ann was promoted to a new facility CEO. Check out her leadership profile here – you’ll be inspired.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.