“Now, you are going to run every inch of this campus until you drop,” were the jolting, 5:30 a.m. words of my college football, Coach Jim Wacker, to our football team. Our team had been dominated by the University of Michigan on ESPN the day before and he was not a happy camper. “Michigan kicked our butts in every area of the game yesterday,” he continued to spout. “As a consequence for the butt-kicking that we endured twelve hours ago, the entire team of 125 players is up early and will be following Coach D for a three hour run through campus this morning.” The sea of players all lined up in the parking lot, dressed in team sweat suits and barely awake, could do nothing but bite our lips and swallow any excuses and prepare to endure the punishment, while still trying to ignore the post-game soreness, injuries and aches, and pains. “Alright, get going…” was Coach Wacker’s final command as he pointed to Coach D to proceed with the grueling run. As the team moved out in massive waves down the sidewalk waiting their turn to join in on the run, groans of disgust swept over everyone. “We worked our butts off during that game,” several guys said underneath their breath. They were right. We had put forth maximum effort. I had even smashed the huge mirror in the visitor’s locker room to get the team pumped up for the big game. We tried hard, but on that day, the University of Michigan was simply the better team. However, none of that mattered now, as the entire team was in full stride preparing to pass the practice field. I couldn’t believe it. I despised running long distance! Suddenly, Coach D took off into a full sprint as we neared the practice facility. He was going to make us pay for the loss. The groans increased from the players, “What is he doing?” “He is going to try to kill us.” Everyone increased their pace to a sprint hoping to keep up.
All of a sudden to our surprise, setting before us was an entire spread of breakfast and tables laid out in our honor. “Men, despite our loss yesterday, you played your butts off and we, as coaches, appreciated your effort. Eat up and enjoy your morning” Coach D. triggered great cheers from the team and now a massive sprint to be the first in line for breakfast. Coach Wacker and our entire coaching staff saw the best in us and honored us for that effort.
As the team chowed down, Coach Wacker proceeded back towards the complex but not before making a short detour towards me. Stopping briefly, he whispered in my ear, “Tommy Tiger, you are still on the hook for that mirror you broke,” he said with his vintage smile. Paying the $200 fee was all good and worth it following the kind gesture of appreciation.
In return for this gesture of appreciation and seeing the best in us, we provided a maximum competitive effort each and every time we stepped on the field.
On a much larger scale, we see this same type of maximized effort put in to place by employees at Southwest Airlines. Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, shows constant appreciation and recognizes the best in his employees as a result of establishing an organizational culture focused on high-spirit and a fun-loving environment. Kelleher understands that superb customer service takes place when employees feel appreciated and have fun. I can attest that being on the receiving end of this service as a patron of Southwest Airlines, makes you feel joyous and appreciated. According to Money Magazine, Southwest Airlines produced the #1 return to Investors of all Standard & Poor’s 500 companies that were publicly traded from 1972-2002, outperforming companies such as Wal-Mart, Intel, GE, Johnson & Johnson, and Walt Disney. Southwest Airlines continues to survive and thrive in economic conditions that are dismantling their competitors, proving that investing, recognizing, and appreciating the best in your employees and team pays off, in good times and bad.
November is a month that each of us is reminded to be appreciative. Appreciation for relationships, opportunities, the service of others, and for the good and challenging times that life hurls at us. Expecting to see the best in you, individuals around you, and challenging situations offer us different perspectives and insights that we may not have recognized previously.
Some might say, “It is difficult to appreciate the best in myself, others and situations when things are so difficult in our nation right now. I don’t feel like appreciating others because of my own hardships.”
Indeed things may be tough: relationships are strained, bills are piling up, layoffs are on the horizon, money is low, company profits are down, and you may feel there is little to be appreciative about.
However, despite not feeling well initially, the placebo effect reveals to us that when we go to our doctor and we expect him or her to address our need and provide us with medicine to make us feel better, often times we get better. We began to feel better physically and psychologically. We trust our doctor and expect that he is looking out for our best interest. What if later, you discovered that your doctor had actually prescribed nothing more than sugar pills. This is precisely what happened in studies after studies centered on the placebo effect. Many patients believed that they were taking medication to help them get better despite what they initially observed, or felt in their bodies and they got better. The word placebo in Latin means “I will please.” It is an expected action. We have the power to will ourselves to appreciative and see the best in ourselves, others, and challenging situations. What we focus on becomes our reality. Focusing on the best allows us to see the best and appreciate the best, creating a new reality.
The Pygmalion effect says that our expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we expect to be appreciative and see the best in others our gratefulness will trump the physical conditions.
When you expect to see the best in yourself, individuals, and situations you begin to experience the best in others and situations leading to greater appreciation.
Here are some questions to explore beginning to appreciate and see the best in you, others, your organization, and in challenging situations:
Think of a time when you had a peak experience when you felt most alive, engaged and proud of yourself:
1. What were the circumstances?
2. What was the outcome?
3. How did you celebrate?
4. What makes you feel proud and capable today?
5. What is the legacy that you would like to leave behind?
1. What do you appreciate most about this person?
2. What are the strengths of this individual?
3. What makes this person unique?
4. How have you shown appreciation towards this individual in the past?
5. What successes would you like to celebrate with this individual?
1. What attracted you to your organization?
2. What are you most proud of about the organization?
3. How can you build on your talents, skills, and competencies to strengthen your team or organization?
4. What strengths, opportunities, and relationships could you leverage within your organization to help move forward within the organization or somewhere else?
5. What support will you ask for to be at your best within your organization?
1. What did it feel like when you had the confidence to face similar situations?
2. What do you need to feel on top of your game in this situation?
3. What support have you provided to others in similar situations?
4. What would a breakthrough look like for you in this situation?
5. Who would be involved in this breakthrough?
(Appreciative Inquiry by Cooperrider, D. & Whitney, D., 1999)
Expect to see the best in yourself, others, and challenging situations and you will always be in a place of appreciation!