Say it with chocolate

I haven’t written any ‘Leadership Wednesdays’ posts for a while, and this is not going to be as deep as some of the earlier ones, but it’s something I’ve learned as both a leader and a follower: say it with chocolate!

People like being rewarded. There is a whole range of books talking about the 5 key ‘love languages’ – ways in which people express and feel love – and one of them is giving gifts. Although for some people this is their primary love language (the main way to communicate that you love them is to give them a gift, however small), and for some it is almost meaningless (they would much prefer a hug or an hour of your undivided attention), there are very few of us whose hearts are not lifted by the occasional random gift.

Bosses who don’t bring a box of chocolates for their team at Christmas are missing a huge trick (in my opinion). A box of doughnuts won’t cure all the inter-office gripes and troubles, but it will give a small frisson of pleasure, and it may be the only pleasant memory your employees have of you in their working week.

At my church, every now and then, the leadership team will order doughnuts for everyone for after the service. There are around 500 people in my church: that’s a significant outlay on doughnuts! They do it because they can’t get around to everyone and sincerely and personally thank them for being part of the team. For those who have pulled their weight, it is a nice gesture, and a small reward. Those who haven’t receive a doughnut anyway; perhaps it will make them want to be a part of this community and serve together with it next year, perhaps it won’t – either way, they go away feeling good about having been in church that day.

In my former workplace, once in a while there would be a call for everyone to set aside time from their normal work and help complete some manual task together – cleaning the newly-built office extension, maybe, or helping a family move house. On these occasions, pizza would be bought for everyone who helped. Again, it was a small gesture, but it played a vital role in letting people know their work was appreciated, and in building team spirit – two great ways to get to know each other are to do physical labour together and to share a meal; these times were invaluable for strengthening a growing team.

I am currently leading the Welcome team for the 4pm service at my church. Occasionally, I will try to encourage the team to focus on a particular area in which I’ve noticed we have been weak. I’ll offer chocolate to anyone who completes, or at least attempts, a particular aspect of the work.

Other times, I’ll bring cakes into the briefing meeting just to randomly thank the teams and encourage them to keep going.

I recently asked whether they found this a bit patronising – we may be volunteers, but we are all adults, after all. I was very firmly told that they weren’t patronised by it at all, but loved the extra boost a little bit of chocolate gave them. (Admittedly, it was all girls in the group I asked, and perhaps guys would feel differently, but I have to say that my male colleagues usually seem to respond well when one or other of us brings in home-baked treats or goes out on a chocolate run!)

I haven’t seen this in any leadership book I’ve read, nor heard it mentioned in any leadership talk, but in my experience, giving small, occasional rewards and incentives is a great motivational tool.

You can’t buy loyalty or allegiance, and certainly not in the chocolate aisle, but you can invest a few pounds in the happiness and wellbeing of your team, and that counts for a lot.

2 Comments On This Topic
  1. Father Stephen
    on Jan 20th at 8:46 am

    I’ve been tring to remember, but can’t, where it was I heard something about this before. It was years, nay decades, ago when when I heard about someone who had explored staff reactions when treats were provided in the manner you describe. It was noted that buying something was appreciated but did very little to the esprit-de-corps whereas something home-made (by the boss/giver) had a more profound effect because even if it was not perfect it spoke volumes about how much they were valued that their leader would give up time to make something for them. It made them feel valued. It was a form of praise that made them feel good about themselves. The ‘One Minute Manager’ emphasises the philosophy that people who feel good about themselves do good work, but doing good work does not necessarily make you feel good about yourself. It follows, therefore, that the treats work better when they are not rewards for achievement but given for no reason, other than grace.

    • newsong40
      on Jan 20th at 9:11 am

      Mmm, very good point/s, thanks dad.
      Yes, we bake brownies, cupcakes etc from time to time and take them into the office – it really does give a boost – must try it for the Welcome team sometime…!


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