2 Essentials of a Mountain-Moving Compliment

Robyn Lee taught me an incredibly powerful lesson.  Robyn is a UCLA grad who I got to lead over the course of 6 years while she worked with Southwestern. She taught me the power of a well-delivered compliment and how it can change the trajectory of a person’s life. Robyn didn’t share this lesson with me by telling me. She showed me. (She may not even realize she taught me this, but she will now!

It took her less than a minute to write this out:

Hiiiiiiiiii Ron! I’ll always remember at my first GRS in 2009: the freddies were winding down and we were standing and clapping for the student excellence award winner. I felt a hand on my shoulder and you said, “For what it’s worth, Robyn, I think that should be you up there.” There isn’t another single most impactful statement anyone has ever made to me. You remind me to love big, be for what’s right, to not take myself so seriously, and give thanks to the Man upstairs. What else matters? So much love and gratitude for you, Ron. -Rolly

Robyn complimented me in a way that was moving and memorable. She remembered a compliment I gave her four long years earlier and it made a difference like no other statement had before. At the moment, I had no idea the impact that could have made.

Years later, she made me a book that has meant as much to me in my professional life as anything I’ll ever receive. A book full of compliments from people I worked with over 20 years.

These compliments have fueled me for the past four years and not only moved mountains in my life, but the lives of those I have had the privilege of impacting.

Compliments have the ability to lift someone up and tap into something inside them that they didn’t know was there.

There are three keys to maximizing the power of a compliment, which will allow that compliment to better serve, impact, and move mountains:


Saying, “You are nice” or “You are great” is well-meant, but vague and less moving. Saying, “I love the way you smile when you greet people,” or “I always appreciate how you are on time and respect those around you,” is specific and usually taken with more gratitude.


We all know what it feels like when someone speaks to us with a genuineness that is memorable. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” which perfectly captures this idea. The tone of voice and warm facial expression often can mean even more than the actual words.


Timing is everything. Often, spontaneity can make a difference. I’ll work with leaders of teams and companies to think through times of the day or week when giving a compliment will be unexpected and therefore mean more. Grabbing someone after a meeting for a quick one-on-one moment, complimenting someone in a group setting, or even a handwritten note, text, or voicemail can all be just as meaningful. The key is you either look for times to lift others up or you don’t. The essence of serving is being intentional about it.

There is power of life and death in our words. We need to use them wisely.

I often realize I fall short in this department as a husband, father, and a leader. I can look back and distinctly see the times I was the most joyful was when I was my best at intentionally lifting others up.

Sometimes it is the person we would never guess who could benefit the most from a specific and sincere compliment. Crazy enough, but often it is the very thing we think someone knows they bring to the table is what we need to compliment.

Make sure you don’t ever miss an opportunity to be intentional and deliver a mountain-moving compliment. Everyone wins when you do.

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