I once read a story about a teacher who decided to honor the seniors at her high school by having them come to the front of the class one by one to receive verbal recognition of how they had made a difference. She presented them each with a blue ribbon to acknowledge that who they are made a difference. To see what impact this recognition could have on the community, the teacher gave each student three more ribbons to share with others and asked them to report the results back within a week.
One student honored a junior executive at a local company for his mentorship. He pinned a ribbon to the man’s shirt and told him how he had made a difference. The student then gave the man the two remaining ribbons and asked him to find someone to recognize and ask them to do the same so they could keep the ceremony going.
The junior executive selected his boss, who had a reputation of being rather grumpy. He admired his creativity and told him so, and asked for permission to pin on the ribbon. Then he asked his boss to take a blue ribbon to someone who he thought deserved to be recognized.
That night, the boss went home to his teenage son and told him of this incredible thing that happened earlier in the day. “A junior executive presented me with this ribbon because he admired my creativity,” the man said. “He asked me to honor someone else in the same way to keep the chain of recognition going.”
“On the drive home from work I thought about you,” he continued. “Although I’m very busy with my career, sometimes day and night, and I get upset with you for not performing well enough in school, or not picking up after yourself at home, I really do love you. Who you are makes a difference to me because you’re one of the most important people in my life.”
Tears overwhelmed the boy. He looked at his father, and said, “Dad, I was planning on taking my life because I didn’t believe you loved me. Now that I feel how important I am to you, I can live on.”
The teacher followed up with her students to receive feedback regarding what had happened with the ribbon campaign. They concluded that recognizing who people are makes a significant difference—one that has a long-reaching ripple effect.
Learn more about how a pat on the back pays huge dividends in the workplace, in my latest article.