Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Don't Think Positive Reinforcement is Important? Run A Marathon

In 2000 I completed my first, and only, marathon.  I remember limping across the finish line bleeding, blistered, exhausted and very excited to see my wife and 2-year-old son.  I checked that item off my bucket list, and hadn’t put on shoes for the purpose of running in nearly 12 years.

I put the medal they give you when you cross the finish line in a shadow box on the wall in our basement along with many of the other family accomplishments.  Over the years, my sons and I have talked about running a marathon together someday.

Fast forward nearly 13 years and my eldest son and I are training to run a half marathon with a full marathon soon to come.  We created a solid training plan and have been sticking to it religiously.   During a recent longer run my son had finished and I was struggling a bit.  After he finished, he came back, gave me high five, said “You’re doing good dad, lets finish this,” and we finished the run together. 

His simple act of positive reinforcement helped me finish and reminded me of my marathon.  It was around mile 22 and I was simply putting one foot in front of the other with nothing left in the tank but determination.  Turning the corner, I saw one of those very long San Francisco hills and my heart sank.  As I started the climb I noticed that there were a number of people who had already finished the race who were walking the course backward to encourage those still struggling.  At that point, even a complete stranger reminding me “you have almost made it, you’re still moving forward and by pushing a bit more you will finish” – meant the world to me.  That simple act of timely positive reinforcement was enough to give me the mental strength needed to make it up the hill and finish.

As business leaders, it is often too easy to fall into routines or get hyper focused on a goal and forget the importance of positive reinforcement for those on our team.  Positive reinforcement not only reminds people that they have the skills to complete the task, but that they also have the confidence of their mentors.  When people know their leaders believe in them they are empowered to push harder, take risks and often over-achieve the goal.  People who receive regular appropriate positive reinforcement are more excited to come to work, will stay in their jobs longer and be more forward thinking in their ideas to improve – because they know they have support behind them.

There are those leaders, and I have worked with a number over the years, who believe positive reinforcement is over-rated.  To them I would say – run a marathon, see what that reinforcement does for you when you are wiped out and then imagine what it could do for someone you work with.  Remind your people how talented they are.  The results are amazing.

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