This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
It is strange – in my 50s, I am, in many ways, at the top of my game. Yet, I get considerably less praise than I did in my 40s, and dramatically less than in my 30s. I find this a bit disconcerting. Let me explain why.
Among other things, I give talks on my research: Introverts in the C-Suite and Working With Millennials More Effectively. The evaluations I get are hard data that I am as good, if not a bit better, than I was 10 years ago. Yet, I hear less praise. I have interviewed over 40 other people in their 50s and they also experience the same thing. To be honest, they felt a bit embarrassed by their feelings.
It seems to be that, over time, we develop a reputation of being reasonably good at something, not unlike Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, where you get to the level of being an expert of something by dedicating 10,000 hours of practice to it, though research since his book Outliers: The Story of Success came out out in 2008 suggests it can be done in considerably less than that.
Many of us, by our mid-40s, have done something for thousands of hours. Whether it be sales, analyzing data and presenting our findings, managing people well, negotiating a complex contract, running an efficient child care program, designing a building, or, in my case, teaching a class or giving a lecture or workshop.
So, we have become increasingly good at something, yet the praise slows – why is this?
Simply put, people have come to expect a top notch performance from us in what we do for a living. If a professor in their late 40s and 50s gives an excellent lecture – well, that is simply what we expect from her.
I recently co-taught with my colleague Henry Mintzberg. He was superb, but, of course, we expected nothing less – he has been doing this for over 40 years. He is world famous and has a formidable reputation, fully earned. We would be astonished if he did not deliver an insightful lecture.
A few Fridays ago, we had about 45 of our professors here at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill give two-minute talks about what exciting research they were currently working on. There were consistently excellent presentations by our senior professors, but we particularly appreciated when assistant professors, in their 20s or early 30s, hit it out of the park. Afterwards, many of us went over to them to express our appreciation of their interesting and well-presented research ideas.
As this was going on, it struck me that this was exactly right – older, more experienced hands were encouraging and cheering on their more junior colleagues. We were much less apt to praise our more senior professors – them doing well is simply what we would expect.
So, this is psychologically somewhat frustrating – the quieting of praise. But we need to remind ourselves that it is still a compliment – you are very good at what you do, you have been for a while now and we expect nothing less than excellence from you.
One last thought for those who manage people over 45 who have been doing what they do for a while: we miss the praise. We will think you are the best boss we have ever had if you take a moment, from time to time, to dole out a bit of praise. It will be much appreciated. I write much about millennials and it is clear that a vital way to effectively work with them is to constantly give them feedback and praise. As we focus on them, let's not forget the 40- and 50-somethings – we need it, too!
Karl Moore (@profkjmoore) is an associate professor at the Destautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.