Go Out and Catch People Doing The Right Thing

As a leader do you go into work everyday looking to catch people doing the right thing, or are you more focused on dealing with issues and problems?

I don’t believe people come into work each day to figure out what they can screw up. No, they come in to do great work, and advance the company’s purpose forward. Why then do leaders spend more time on the negatives? A leader’s focus should be on all the positive things that are going on in the work environment.

 I find that people who have been consistently encouraged:

  • Make better teammates
  • Are more productive
  • Are more creative & willing to take risks to drive improvement
  • Have less fear of failure
  • Feel empowered
  • Are open to being coached when problems arise

When focusing on “Catching people doing the right thing” servant leaders:

  • Recognize both good performance and good behaviors
  • Recognize the small wins as well as the big wins
  • Are specific in their recognition (No generalities)
  • Recognize both privately 1×1 as well as publically when appropriate
  • Put practices in place to make recognition a daily habit
  • Write hand-written notes of thanks and encouragement
  • Expect all people to embrace encouragement as part of the culture

I used to start every meeting with a celebration of the success stories that team members had seen since we last met. This, along with daily performance metrics, provided plenty of material for me to recognize people. On my daily walks I would also look for behavioral excellence, such as employees keeping a safe, clean, and orderly work space, or pitching in to help others in need, and compliment them on being a great teammate.

One of my favorite examples of a leader making encouragement a daily habit was someone who put 6 fishing jigs (sans hooks) in his left pocket every morning. Each time he caught someone doing the right thing, he would compliment him or her and then move a jig to his right pocket. His goal was to finish each day with all the jigs in his right pocket

These encouragement practices will drive a culture of:

  • No fear
  • Energized employees
  • High performance
  • Personal growth

 I encourage you to take an inventory of how much time are you spending on dwelling on the negative and dealing with problems vs. catching people doing the right thing. Challenge yourself to consistently improve this ratio. It will positively enhance your culture.

What are some ways you are intentional about catching people doing the right thing? 

Mark Deterding

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. Matthew 16:15-17

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Mark Deterding

Mark Deterding is an author, speaker, consultant and the founder of Triune Leadership Services. With over four decades of experience directing companies and developing leaders, Mark created A Model of Servant Leadership parallel to the principles that Jesus himself illustrated. His greatest passion in working with organizations, businesses and individuals is seeing the impact servant leadership has on people’s lives and beyond.

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  1. David on February 26, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    This concept is one of my absolute favorites from Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s book the One Minute Manager. I use it in my signature of emails (it’s one I use). I try to use sticky-notes, thank-you, and we have a program at work to specifically acknowledge people and their supervisor of good work. To me, this is one of the easiest, most over-looked, value adding task we can do every day. Great job!

    • Mark Deterding on February 27, 2014 at 3:55 am


      Thanks so much for your additional insights on the power of recognition. I love how intentional you have gotten around using various tools to insure that your people are being recognized for their outstanding work. Awesome!


  2. Jim Scheuing on February 27, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Great stuff Mark, thank you!

    I have always have walked the floor and communicated with the production or floor teams as much as I could (often every couple hours). As the companies “official” leader I have always preached that I should be the #1 down time on the production floor! There is nothing more important about building a team than to communicate to the best of ones ability; and, that is best done by consistently talking with all the team members and as often as possible. A simple smile, “how’s it going” and a tap on a shoulder goes a very long way with developing a trusting team.

    • Mark Deterding on February 28, 2014 at 5:07 am


      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and affirming the importance of positive recognition and a leader’s presence with their people. I appreciate your focus in this area and the priority that you place on it.


  3. Doug Steven on May 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    I especially appreciated the fishing jigs example. I’m going to put that into practice. Just have to decide what ‘item’ I’m going to use, since I don’t have fishing jigs! Thanks Mark.

    • Mark Deterding on May 4, 2014 at 2:03 am


      Great hearing from you! I applaud you for taking the initiative to be intentional about recognizing people for their great work throughout the day. Awesome! Hope all is well with you and your family, and Steven Cabinets! Wishing you God’s continued blessings on all your endeavors!


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