David Novak, the Champion of the Power of Recognition - rocketMBA

David Novak, the Champion of the Power of Recognit...

David Novak, the Champion of the Power of Recognition

In my job analyzing stocks before business school, I had the opportunity to sit in more than 300 meetings with the leaders of companies of all sizes and virtually every industry. One name I never forgot was David Novak.

Not only did his business acumen shine through during the meeting, but I also read an article around the same time that our company met with him. The article opened my eyes to the underrated power of recognition in life and business, and that message has stayed with me ever since. I was able to track down the article here.

O Great One! CoverA former manager of mine recently gave me a copy of Novak’s new book, O Great One!, and I read it over the past two days. While the principles of the book seem simple, the messages and lessons are powerful. I will keep this book on my shelf for the rest of my life as a reminder of the power of recognition. This book is worth buying, keeping, and re-reading.

Rather than presenting traditional business concepts, Novak and his co-author Christa Bourg tell a fictional story (inspired by real events) of a business leader’s attempts to turn around a struggling toy company. I found the dialogue between the characters fascinating as well, as the conversations between the leader and his other employees offer tremendous insights into how managers can successfully navigate difficult conversations.

I particularly loved the 10 principles of recognition Novak and Bourg present through the book, and all of us should frequently refer back to them over time:

  1. People won’t care about you if you don’t care about them
  2. The best way to show people you care is to listen to them
  3. A great idea can come from anywhere
  4. Recognize great work and great ideas whenever and wherever you see them
  5. Make recognition a catalyst for results
  6. Make it fun
  7. Make it personal
  8. Recognition is universal
  9. Giving recognition is a privilege
  10. Say thank you every chance you get

Other takeaways and leadership reminders I had from the book were:

  • Recognition is not just about making others feel good; it is also about recognizing positive behaviors that propel the business’s results
  • No matter our level in an organization, we can all say “Thank you”
  • Celebrate the small wins along the way rather than just waiting to celebrate the “big win” at the end; the small wins lead to the big win
  • Every one of us wants to feel valued and appreciated when we do a good job
  • When a leader is enacting a cultural change in an organization, not everyone will be on board right away, and that is ok; what matters, however, is that everyone is on board after a reasonable period of time (and if someone isn’t, a hard decision may have to be made)
  • Leaders need to continually reinforce the new behaviors they want, as there will be a natural tendency to let things slip back to the way things used to be
  • Leaders shape culture through their actions and words by showing what is valued and rewarded (Novak and Bourg memorably describe this as “the shadow of the leader”)


Novak and Bourg have written an excellent book, and I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

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Before graduating from Stanford GSB with an MBA in 2016, Alex worked for three years in public equity investing. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Alex enjoys hanging out at the beach with friends, playing basketball, and learning about history. He currently works in Equity Research in Downtown LA.


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