Gold Stars and Applause: The Motivational Fuel of Champions

When I got a gold star as a kid, I felt happy and proud. Getting that gold star meant that my work was recognized. Gold stars were special, acknowledging exceptional work, and not everyone got one. It meant a lot to me, as a child to know that I had done something my teacher thought was outstanding.

Fast forward a few decades, and I find that verbal gold stars and applause are two of my favorite coaching tools. Most people have warm memories around earning a gold star from a favorite teacher, and even the shyest person appreciates well-earned applause. But once we’re out of school, gold stars and applause are harder to find. In the “real world”, too many bosses, team leaders and other authority figures put more emphasis on pointing out shortcomings than on celebrating a job well done. We get hungry for someone to acknowledge when we’ve done our best work.

Verbal praise is very important when a coaching client achieves a goal, but I’ve found that many adults automatically deflect praise. As we get older, it seems we are often more attuned to the negatives than to the positives, and we often hear—and recall— negative comments much more clearly than we allow ourselves to absorb positive words.

That’s why I love verbal gold stars with applause. People may ignore or choose not to accept your words of praise, but when you add applause, yes I actually clap; it’s much easier for positive comments to make it past their defenses and really create an impression. People of every age deserve and need validation and acknowledgement for their hard work and great ideas. This is especially true when the road to achieving a dream is long and fraught with setbacks. Praise and recognition can make the difference between someone going on or giving up. It’s powerful stuff.

A verbal gold star is just what it sounds like. When a client reports exceptional accomplishments—or efforts—I will tell them, “you’ve just earned a gold star. Go you!” This is special praise, not handed out lightly. It’s for those who go above and beyond a tough situation, staying the course until it’s through, pushing beyond their comfort zone.

Throughout my career I have found that verbal gold stars and applause never hurt anybody. In fact, most people are secretly starving for praise, validation and acknowledgement. I challenge you to try it out for yourself. Who in your life deserves a gold star and some applause? I bet you do!


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