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Become a People Builder: How to Maximize Employee Performance

Rick Pitino, head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Louisville and author of the New York Times best-seller Success is a Choice, once said, “I learned a long time ago as a coach that you can expect great things from people who feel good about themselves. They can push themselves. They can set long-term goals. They have dreams that every one expects to be fulfilled. People with high self-esteem are risk takers, but more important, they are achievers.”

When you believe in your employees, both in their abilities and their potential, they can sense it. This positive reinforcement of their skills from someone in a position above them is motivating. When your employees feel that their manager believes in them, they will begin to truly believe in themselves. This, in turn, affects their productivity and drive to succeed—for both themselves and the company. When your employees take on this determined mindset, they can rise to greatness. As Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, said, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

Although this concept may sound simple, it is often more complex to achieve. In reality, one of the greatest challenges a leader can face is helping their employees to see their own potential and believe in themselves. Becoming a people builder takes time and commitment. You must be aware of your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their business beliefs and personalities. By being aware of your employees’ differences and similarities, you can better build the confidence of each one individually. The personalization of people building is important to ensure that your staff feels that your individual encouragement of each member is well founded and based on truth. While much of this may seem like a great effort to undertake, imagine the results you will get in return.

So, what kind of leader or manager are you? Do you build people up—helping them to see their strengths and potential? Or do you belittle them by concentrating only on the bottom line?

It’s easy to identify leaders who are people builders. People tend to crowd around them and want to interact with them more. Their charisma and positive outlook make these managers people-magnets. Everyone, I’m sure, knows at least a few of these people—they have plenty of friends and followers. For example, my best friend in high school, Larry Fryer, was a people-magnet. Everyone adored Larry. He was elected senior class president and crowned king of the senior prom. However, Larry never put himself above anyone else. He was always great to be around because he saw the good qualities in every person—it was his own formula for popularity. He followed the philosophy of Mother Teresa, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

That’s what makes people-magnets. They instill worth and self-esteem in the people around them. Who wouldn’t be attracted to a person that makes you feel those things?

So, how do they do it? People-magnets simply love people. In fact, the word “love” has Anglo-Saxon roots that mean “to look for the good.” People-magnets encourage people by looking at and recognizing what’s good about them and what they do. That’s why great sales managers have teeth marks on their tongues. Instead of constantly criticizing, they focus on their personnel’s strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

However, this doesn’t mean these leaders ignore unacceptable behavior. It’s just that they praise their employees about 8 to 10 times more than they criticize them. Research by the U.S. Army confirms the effectiveness of this method, showing that in order for people to accept and grow from criticism they need eight praises for every constructive criticism. It’s important that leaders who want to become people builders find the correct balance of praises and criticisms for their staff. As author on leadership and management Ken Blanchard advises, “Catch people doing things right.” But he also adds, “Don’t wait until people do things exactly right before you praise them.”

Notice the good that your people do and the results they produce. As a people builder, it is imperative that you stay aware of these things. As Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankees catcher said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Keep your eyes open and seek out things for which to compliment your employees —let their increased confidence and productivity help increase your bottom line.

Commenting on employees’ accomplishments and good works costs your company or business nothing; however, it can yield large dividends. Being respected and appreciated can be the key to keeping good employees with you, even if you can’t offer them a bonus or a raise at that particular time.

In a recent study by Robert Half International Inc., it was found that as many as 80% of the American work force is dissatisfied with their jobs. A major cause of dissatisfaction is whether an employee feels appreciated in the job he or she does. If you personally recognize a hero whom you’ve never met, you should publicly recognize your own employees! As many as 34% of good employees who had quit a job cited a lack of, or limited appreciation of their contributions. That was a primary reason for leaving. “Praise will help you hang onto talented people, when money can’t. Praise costs nothing and yields big dividends. And yet the world is filled with otherwise bright people who are absolute dolts at delivering praise” (Mike McCormick, What They Still Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School).

Withholding feedback is like sending someone on a dangerous journey without a compass. Ignoring employee productivity is a bad habit that no good leader or manager should ever develop. It is important, however, that feedback aimed at your staff is phrased to be constructive. Often, you can phrase your suggestions for needed improvement in a positive, self-esteem building way rather than in a "we need to fix this" negative tone.

Criticism closes the mind. If your constituents become defensive or begin to justify their actions, then you know your feedback was ineffective. A secret in giving feedback is always asking permission to give it. By asking permission, the constituent feels control and will be more open to the feedback.

If an employee’s productivity is lacking, it is a manager’s role as a people-building leader to find ways to apply his or her personal expertise to teach the employee how to be more effective in his or her current position and produce at a higher level. The secret is to get the constituent to want the feedback.

By turning feedback of employees into constructive educational points, it often removes the negative aspects of the criticism itself. Criticism is the killer of motivation and trust. It is the cause of emotional divorce (that which happens before the actual physical divorce). Criticism can be the killer of relationships. No one has ever built a statue to honor a critic, and there has never been a great leader who was also a great critic.

By striking a careful balance between the praises and feedback received from a manager to a staff member and staying aware of the way in which the feedback is construed, the manager not only keeps relationships with the staff intact but also builds up the staff’s confidence and productivity.

Become a leader or manager who builds people. Your charisma and positive attitude will build confidence, happiness, and self-esteem among your employees, resulting in a more motivated and productive staff. Basically, become a people builder and, and as a result, build your bottom line.