Leadership Advice

Leaders let high performers know why their work matters

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

Managers, here’s a quick exercise.

Think about a person on your team you consider to be a truly high performer. I hope you have more than one, but for right now, just consider the first one that comes to mind. 

Now, write down that name.

Beneath it, create a list of 5 bullet points describing what that person does. It may look something like this.


  • Brings fresh ideas to the table that make us better.
  • Creates memorable user-friendly copy and images that surprise and delight.
  • Collaborates in ways that strengthen everyone involved.
  • Thinks ahead to next steps on all projects.
  • Stays cool under pressure.

Now that you’ve made your list, ask yourself: Would Beth be surprised to know she immediately came to mind when I was asked about high performers? Does she truly know how much she matters to us? With the specificity I laid out?

And, more importantly (and the point of this exercise): Why don’t I just tell Beth what I just wrote?

This exercise is often part of my leadership workshops. The managers do a good job of identifying high performers. They easily fill in the bullet points. 

Then I ask if they’ve considered sharing what they wrote with the staffer. That comes as a surprise to some. I ask them to give it a try – with complete transparency: “I’m in this management training and they asked us to list high performers and what they do to earn that reputation. I thought of you. Here’s what I wrote…”

Some are a little hesitant. They assume that good employees know their value. They fear their employee might think their message is hokey. 

I then share research that says that the people who send praise can be overly concerned about how awkward recipients will feel. They also underestimate how surprised and appreciative those recipients turn out to be. 

In the next day’s class, I ask if anyone shared the feedback. Inevitably, those who did are smiling. What did they discover? Their message made someone’s day.

What else? 

Not to assume their team members know how much they and their good work truly matter.


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