Years ago I visited the transportation museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia. There was a wall as you entered that contained campaign battle ribbons dating back to the earliest wars and military conflicts for the United States.
The wall inspired a sense of awe once you recognize the sheer scope and magnitude it represents. At the top of the wall was a quote that should inspire every leader at every level in every organization. The quote was from a tough-minded leader who is known for his ambition and passion for results … Napoleon.
The quote said, “It is amazing what a man will do for a piece of colored ribbon.”
There are those who will interpret the quote through a lens of cynicism and ridicule. For them, it reinforces the notion that people can be manipulated into doing terrible things for the sake of upholding someone else’s sense of what is important.
These people miss the point.
Napoleon was sharing a message that every leader should learn and embrace – no one has ever received too much legitimate recognition for their honest efforts and results. It doesn’t matter how much recognition you think you give to others, there is room for more as long as it is sincere and that it stands for something important. The recognition doesn’t have to be valuable in monetary terms. It is essential that it is intrinsically valuable on emotional and psychological terms.
Lately, I’ve spoken with leaders in a wide variety industries who struggle with giving enough recognition. They worry that they are ill equipped to engage a generation that is defined by the premise that everyone gets a trophy. They wonder if they will be forced to double their investment in “stuff” to communicate their appreciation.
There is good news if you are one of those leaders. Napoleon’s quote is still relevant. Yes, you need to give more recognition. But the truth is that you should have been doing that for years.
The secret to effective recognition isn’t about things. It is about meaning and relevance and connection. Make your sincere recognition stand for something important. Show people how their hard work and great results advances your cause.
This takes work. A casual “good job” doesn’t create meaning and connection. But if you do the work, you, too, will find that it is amazing what people will do for a piece of colored ribbon.