CEO Blog

A teaspoon of sugar

Published on November 25, 2019 Back to the trenches
Teaspoon full of sugar

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending my second CEO workshop with Michael Allosso, a prolific director and actor – but also an incredible speaker, motivator and teacher for business leaders (check out michaelallosso.com). In his sessions, entitled “You on your best day,” Michael shares a range of insights, tips and tricks to help people become stronger leaders and communicators. And, not only does he share these tips, he lives by them. 

From the moment he walked in the room, he wowed us. Individually, he came up to each of us with a big smile, called us by our name (as though he clearly remembered it from when we last met 18 months earlier) and referenced something he remembered about us from the last session. We were all in awe. (NOTE: “Names” are one of his tips.)

Early on the workshop, he asked if any of us had any big take-aways from our last session. I proudly raised my hand and recalled his insight about how, as leaders, we were always “on stage.”—whether we knew it or not, people (especially our staff) are always watching us and making assumptions based on what we’re wearing, who we’re talking to, how we’re behaving, what we’re eating, who we say hi to, etc. That awareness was eye opening to me. Upon finishing my response, Michael acknowledged me for not only participating, but specifically on how I shared the story with confidence, energy and detail. I was feeling good (especially in a room with my friends and peers).

It wasn’t until much later in the session, where Michael shared his leadership insight/tip called TSP. He referred to it as “a teaspoon of sugar,” where TSP stood for truthful, specific, positive feedback. (Just like what he gave me earlier in the day.) While I walked away from the workshop with many great insights and tips, TSP is one I thought most worthy of dissecting here as I personally experienced the impact it can make.

  1. Specificity is what makes the difference – This is perhaps the part that stood out most for me. Just saying “great job!” isn’t enough. You need to provide a specific example of why it was a good job (i.e., “The way in which you presented that idea and responded to that question about X was really impressive.”) Without the specificity, the intended compliment will likely fall flat. (Admittedly, I’m not always great with the “specificity” part of TSP, but am now working on it.)
  2. It helps (for specificity) to write stuff down – Throughout the session, Michael was taking copious notes. Then, from time to time, he would gracefully refer back to what people said (often word for word) and acknowledge the value of it. Without any of us really knowing what he was doing (yet), he was “feeding us sugar” through the entire workshop. 
  3. Truth (and authenticity) is required – If you don’t mean what you say, don’t say it. People generally have good “bullish*t” meters and know when you are just trying to be nice.
  4. Public TSP tastes the best – While it is perfectly fine to give TSP in private, it has a much greater impact when it is shared in front of other people. 
  5. Lots of sugar makes something bitter easier to swallow – Near the end of the workshop, I said something that wasn’t quite as profound as my earlier comments (it happens 🙂). Michael called me out on it, and provided some feedback on how to improve. Because of all the TSPs he’d given me earlier in the day, his more critical feedback was much easier and more meaningful to take (even in front of my peers). 
  6. The more sugar you give, the more sugar you get – I noticed that the more Michael gave it to us, the more we each felt compelled to give it to him. And, the cycle is pretty amazing (and energizing) to watch. 

Thank you to Michael Allosso for another workshop, helping my colleagues and me be “us on our best day”—and specifically, for reminding us of the importance of meaningful acknowledgement. I hope that you find it as helpful as I did, and weave it not only into your personal behavior, but also the culture of your organization. 

Given the potential impact of TSP, I’m curious to hear how you and your organization may empower others and/or encourage this type of behavior by commenting here. For example, at Small Army, we give each employee a a few $50 “Small Army Bucks” each quarter, to give to others for doing a good job. On the buck, the giver writes why they are giving it to the recipient. The recipient then brings it to our VP of operations who (1) shares the acknowledgment with everyone in the office via email, (2) hangs the buck on the kitchen wall and (3) gives the recipient a $50 Amazon gift card. 

As always, thanks for reading. I wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next time,

– Jeff