In the 2008 film Hancock
, Will Smith’s superhero character is advised by a
public relations expert to go around telling people: “Good job!” I often think
we should adopt this technique, especially when someone really does a good
When I retired from the IDF I was surprised to discover that I was
feeling 20 years younger than my real age. Don’t ask me for my dietary habits or
training methods. It was something else.
The organizational culture of
hierarchical structure had kept me feeling “small” and not appreciated according
to my age, experience and expertise.
Many times I had to fight to be
considered an expert, a professional and someone to whom it was worth
Assignment to positions and the process of selection for
promotion were awfully painful. Immense pressure was exerted behind the scenes
and the overall feeling was that the process was biased and unfair. Even though
“transparency” was always declared, I never really knew what was going
But it was the little things that got to me the most.
got feedback regarding papers that I wrote, even when they were approved and
adopted as policy. When I wrote an email to a general, I usually received a
short response such as “noted.”
My successes were attributed to my boss
but my failures were easily traced right back to me.
I wanted someone to
tell me: “Good job!” I must point out that my direct commanders usually showed
recognition and appreciation. The problem was with senior leadership.
tend to think that Israelis are very informal. There is little, if any,
“distance” between the ranks and we call our superiors by their first
We perceive other cultures as very formal and “square,” but
surprisingly I see more and more informal interaction between the ranks in the
US military and certainly much more feedback, appreciation and praise for a job
It’s not all black and white.
I think the IDF is an
extraordinary organization with amazing people and a proud legacy. Although I’m
criticizing some of the leadership models I have experienced, we also have many
outstanding leaders. I had the honor of serving under, following and learning
from many of them.
But, as a pilot, I was taught not to deal with the
good, but to focus on the bad and try to make it better.
question must be asked: If I felt so unappreciated, why did I work so hard? What
motivated me? The answer is that I didn’t work for my boss. I served my
country. I did it because it was important. Because I felt I was part of a
national, historic mission.
A follow-up question must be this: If lack of
feedback and recognition didn’t affect my productivity, what’s the problem? The
answer is that it did affect my productivity. We should not underestimate the
direct impact as well as secondary ripple effects such as forwarding the
aggressive approach down the chain of command.
We are not leading
We should abandon the authoritative leadership model that uses
obedience and harshness to push people in order to make them follow. Instead, we
should promote an inspirational leadership model that uses personal example,
partnership and unity of purpose to motivate people.
I don’t think
anybody is doing it on purpose. We are victims of circumstance, culture and
We cannot deal with only one aspect and expect change. There
are many cultural factors that influence leadership and how people feel. Here
are some examples:
• We are overwhelmed with assignments and under too much
pressure. Leaders simply don’t have time to be nice. Meetings in
Israel usually start late and their format isn’t upheld, so there’s no time for
people to express themselves.
• An American general may refer a question
to one of his colonels instead of answering it himself, explaining that the
officer is more of an expert on this subject. An Israeli general doing
the same will risk being disrespected by his subordinates who will think he
simply doesn’t know the answer.
• In the IDF, some commanders think that
they must be the most professional in their unit. This is sometimes the case,
since most officers started out as privates, but I believe leaders should
emphasize that they are not the smartest or the best in everything and that they
can rely on subordinates who have more expertise in certain matters.
The IDF’s modesty in awarding decorations and adorning insignia is related to
our parsimony in commending and recognizing people for their hard
Now, I have a confession to make. I was a terrible leader until I
was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 2005.
results-oriented, very strict, pedantic, and I had no patience for mediocrity. I
related to my soldiers as if they were parts in a machine and acted as if the
harder I drove them, the more results I would get.
I was wrong.
was complaining about my bosses, but making the same mistakes with my
subordinates. I craved recognition, but rarely gave it to my
Fortunately, I recognized this and worked very hard to change. I
started focusing on people, not only results. For the first time in my career, I
accepted the fact that not everything is perfect. I learned to delegate
I found that relating to my people personally resulted in
boosting their satisfaction, commitment and accomplishments.
I found that
compliments have a positive effect.
I became a better leader. It didn’t
come naturally to me and it has been a constant struggle. I still wasn’t an easy
boss, but my people were more satisfied, they enjoyed their jobs and they felt
I believe the key to success is first identifying the problem
and then initiating long-term processes, on a wide spectrum of
The first step can be small, but it signifies a giant leap: Tell
your subordinates, “You are professionals; I respect you; you are important to
the organization and you make a difference.”
Tell them: “Good job!”
writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of Cross-Cultural
Strategies Ltd., which focuses on bridging cultural gaps in international
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