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How celebrating small wins can lead to big results

I’m a firm believer in celebrating the wins of my team - big or small. There’s no excuse not to celebrate wins, as it’s one of the easiest ways you can influence motivation on your team and in your life. But, how many times have you heard or seen someone on social media talking about celebrating the small wins and thought, I call bullshit. Or, this is ridiculously juvenile.

I get it, trust me. As a data analytics professional in the military, my traditional career has included only a few celebrations limited to truly significant events - Osama Bin Laden’s death, for example. Hard to feel like the little things are worth celebrating when the bar is seemingly so high.

But now, I’m a firm believer in celebrating the small wins of my team, and I’ll tell you why:

A few years ago, I took a new position and began leading a new team. Within my first few weeks, I casually began praising them for progress on their projects and the positive impact they had on their team. And it worked - I noticed a difference in my team, and their willingness to go the extra mile or push the boundaries of their responsibilities.

(Rather listen along? Tune in now to The Beyond Leadership Podcast)

The long term positive effects of these celebrations are scientifically proven.

And the most important thing to remember if you want to benefit from these positive effects is that small celebrations must be a daily practice. Why? Small, daily wins make your people feel like they’re progressing in their roles, which eventually leads to inspiration and further innovation. Better yet, this increased ability to innovate eventually leads to enhanced problem solving skills, resulting in an attentive team that solves problems before they even arrive. And as every leader knows, this is one of the biggest achievements of all on the road towards success, scalability, and increased income. There’s nothing you can’t do if you’re anticipating the needs of your customers and clients before they bubble up.

This might sound like a pipe dream, but believe me when I say it’s achievable, and it all starts with celebrating small wins on a daily basis. Big wins are great, but big wins are also rare.

Harvard Business Review published their study on the power of small wins nearly 10 years ago, and it includes the mention of something they called the Progress Principle. Which states that, “of all the things that can boost your emotions, motivations, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.” (HBR, 2011)

The more people feel their own sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creative and productive in the future.

Not celebrating little wins can actually stifle creativity.

Celebration is the easiest way to influence motivation. But there are two kinds of motivation - internal and external - to consider in the workplace.

Internal Motivation makes your team want to work for you. It creates a feeling of belonging and desire to do well for yourself, the people around you, and to fulfill the mission of what you’re doing.

External Motivation makes your team want to work for a reward or prize. This type of motivation doesn’t truly work in the long run because as soon as the prize is reached, motivation goes away. External motivation isn’t a sustainable source of encouragement for a team.

Now that you know the difference between the two, you’re better equipped to celebrate small wins and create a sense of internal motivation among your team. But if you’re not sure where to start when it comes to celebrating small wins, bookmark this blog post or jot these things down to reflect on later.

  1. Establish a positive climate by getting to know your people. Be authentically interested in their lives, livelihood, families, and interests. Your team shouldn’t wonder if you’re talking to them out of obligation, they should know that their boss cares about them and wants to know them on a personal level.

  2. Know your team’s meaningful work. Acknowledge the little and big ways they contribute to your team’s success. Don’t turn a blind eye when they go above and beyond, rather, make sure you have a thorough understanding of their contributions.

  3. Be genuine in your approach. Foster a true interest in your team and their success, and checking in to ensure things are working. This doesn’t mean micromanaging or being selfishly motivated to learn more about them.

Where have you won this week?

While it’s crucial to celebrate the small wins for your team, it’s just as important to celebrate them for ourselves as leaders. If you’re aspiring to be the most creative, authentic, and productive version of yourself, it’s important that you find time and space to pat yourself on the back, too. Trust me when I say you deserve it.



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