Our brain hungers for recognition and praise.
When we hear “good job”—especially when we aren’t expecting it—we get a hit of dopamine. That’s the “feel good” chemical our body produces.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, as we’ve studied in my applied neuroscience program. When dopamine is released from nerve cells it sends signals to other nerves and brain areas, which primarily stimulate the brain’s reward system and motor control.
When we get dopamine hits, we react in two ways. We feel pleasure in the moment. We also realize we can increase our chances for replicating this feeling in the future if we repeat the behavior we just did.
For an example of how this positive reinforcement works in action consider my experience last week at a San Francisco hotel.
Upon walking into my fifth floor room, I noticed an herb garden outside my window—a surprise especially for an urban hotel room view. Among the pots of basil, thyme and parsley were some cherry tomatoes too.
The next day while working in my room during a break in meetings, I sensed some motion outside. Two men were harvesting herbs.
Later that afternoon, I thought I spotted one of the men downstairs in the hotel’s conference area setting up chairs for our next meeting. So I went up to him and asked if he had been just been gardening on the fifth floor.
He did a double take, started beaming, and pronounced. “Yes! Wow! Someone has noticed! My boss will be so pleased!”
He then started telling me all about the garden, which he took the initiative to plant earlier this season as an experiment.
The crops have been so plentiful that the hotel’s chefs are using them in their cooking for the guests.
They’re also planning to expand the rooftop garden next year. They won’t be able to grow all the herbs and tomatoes they need; however, they think they will be able to prominently feature their crops on their menu.
As the hotel gardener/conference manager gleefully explained the plans for the garden, he kept saying how good he felt that someone had noticed and said something. My comments had “made his day.”
From my perspective, I didn’t feel as if I had done anything but be observant and curious. Nonetheless, our conversation made me feel good, especially hearing and seeing him be so joyful.
It was a great reminder of the power of praise and recognition, and how we all need to catch people doing the right things more often. Actions like this take so little time and cost no money yet mean so much to the receiver. And, the receiver can become more engaged to fulfilling work commitments.
Who can you praise and recognize today?
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a BANI world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.