President Roosevelt“That is how you do it!” were the words shouted at me by my tech school instructor accompanied with a high-five, after marshaling my first aircraft onto the spot. It was nearly 18 years ago when I learned to maneuver the colossal C-5 Galaxy; however, his reaction has stuck with me ever since and played over in my head for the next 10,000+ times I marshaled an aircraft. I am sure he had no clue the impact this little “reward” would have on me and neither did I, but it certainly does drive home the fact we need to reward the behaviors we want repeated.

One of the earliest and most basic things we learn as human beings is we like to be rewarded. Kids will do anything for a sticker. My daughter got out of bed five times a night as a toddler and we tried all sorts of time-outs and took toys away and every other thing we could imagine. Then we offered her a sticker if she slept through the night…victory! We all love knowing we are doing a good job.

A very common theme in the Air Force (and probably every organization) is people feel their efforts are not being recognized. A boss once told me, “I feel like the only time we talk is when you mess something up.” He was right. All of the hundreds of flawless tasks accomplished by my team on a routine basis weren’t being met with any type of praise, but the one missed suspense hidden in an email brought down the hammer.

This is the mentality a lot of us have, but never even think about it. We are slow and hesitant to provide solid mid-term and annual feedbacks, but must act within 24 hours to deliver a letter of reprimand. We have been conditioned to reward bad behavior before delivering any type of praise. “Why the hell do they need praise, they’re doing their job?!”

In my own experiences, I have found that when I reward the behavior I want repeated, it is repeated. When someone fixed an issue on a mission aircraft and accomplished an on-time takeoff, I was sure to meet them with praise. The key to this is a proper reward for the behavior. Most of the time a ‘thank you’, fist bump or a high-five is sufficient when they are doing their job well. I often follow this up with an email or conversation with the supervisor. Now, when a subordinate is going over and beyond the normal or expected, they should be met with something more tangible like a day off, quarterly award nod, etc.

If the only time we are talking to our team is when the mess up, they have no use or respect for us and the trickle effect from that will be enormous. They will not come to us with problems. They will not take chances. They will simply do their jobs and nothing more. It is up to us to reward the behaviors we want to see repeated throughout the organization and they will be. When the rest of the team learns you care and are willing to take care of them for working hard, they will work harder.

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – President Theodore Roosevelt

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