We are intelligent. We are courageous. We are funny. We are caring. We are compassionate human beings. We are also humble. Is there such a thing as being too humble? Or have we confused humility with pride? A true leader ought to be able to think positively without feeling boastful or arrogant.
When people go out of their way and take the time to recognize positive qualities in any of us we need to start by fully listening to the comment. Just accept it. Follow the acceptance by saying thank you. That’s right… thank you. Two tiny words that go a long way but are often so hard for people to say when on the receiving end of a compliment. Saying thank you is probably easier and faster than trying to deflect the compliment or counter with some self-deprecating comment.
It’s not as if we are looking for compliments and it’s not as if we expect them. But, we will get them. Sometimes, they are few and far between. But, to immediately dismiss a compliment is wrong for several reasons.
First, it says to the person complimenting you that they were wrong. Someone has gone out of their way to find something good enough in us that they feel the need to let us know. And what do we do? We reject it. We brush it off or sweep it under the rug. Sometimes we even change the subject!
Shame on us for not placing value on the idea that someone else shared! The other day, it was one of our dress down days where I was wearing jeans, someone complimented me on how thin I looked and instead of saying thank you, I said, “I haven’t really lost any weight – it’s just the clothes.” Don’t get me wrong, inside, I was totally flattered and excited by the comment (I did look good) but I didn’t want to come across vain or even worse, I didn’t want the person to think I was on a diet. A simple “Thank you…” would have sufficed but instead I made the person feel silly for their compliment and it ended up being an awkward exchange.
Second, by rejecting compliments we give others permission to do the same. As leaders we try often to make others feel good about themselves. We go out of our way to compliment them. But if others notice us constantly rejecting or deflecting compliments what do they think when we give them? Likely, they think our thoughts are worth less than a wooden nickel.
As we know, it always comes back to modeling – if we can successfully model receiving a compliment, our students, staff and community members will be accepting when we offer the same. Now, there is something about compliments that we must remember… they cannot be general and vague and applicable to anyone or any situation. For example, after watching a powerful reading workshop experience in a fourth grade classroom, we shouldn’t just walk out and say, “That was GREAT!” What was great? Why was it great? Was it greater than anything done before? What does that even mean? Compliments need to be specific and honest and clear. For example, “I loved the way you facilitated that mini-lesson and offered the children an opportunity for guided practice before letting them try it independently!” Here is a compliment that is specific to what happened and it indirectly reinforces what you hope to see in the future… a compliment can have some serious legs!
Our children and our students need to know that it is okay to feel good about themselves. If they witness us deflecting compliments they will begin to hang their heads just a little lower when all the while the while we are trying to help raise them up. What do we teach young women when they see strong, positive female leaders brush off an accolade in their presence? What do we teach our young men when they see strong, positive male role models dismiss a compliment given by another human being? There are so many ways that we can help promote positivity and a sense of self-confidence in those around us, and in ourselves, when we get more comfortable with receiving and giving genuine, specific compliments.
Leading with heart requires us to be fully in. Part of being fully “in” requires us to be steadfast in our strengths, open to improvements in our weaknesses, and to celebrate the good within the others we work with…ourselves included.
Our Deepest Fear