Many leaders fail to utilise one of the most effective tools in their arsenal: encouragement.
This is not the type of encouragement that says, “I encourage you to now take your seats.” That’s just filler. Nor is it the encouragement that says (as a friend told me recently), “As this is our fortnightly performance review, here are my 3 pages of dot points on weaknesses that I have determined, or things I don’t like about, your performance. I encourage you to fix them!” (Apparently, this ‘manager’ did this for the 5 months before my friend, tired of the depressing and demeaning environment, was able to find another place of work.)
One of my favourite bosses of all time was very effective as an encourager: a man who was a University lecturer and had worked in different contexts all around the world. I was working for him as a teaching assistant, and then later worked with him as the international student representative at the particular university. His name was Peter (he’d have to have that name to be a great leader, wouldn’t he?) and he hired me because he recognised in me (how, I don’t know) the capacity to do great work. And then he talked alongside me about how to achieve particular results and goals he was aiming for and then let me sort out the details. As he had new ideas, he would share them and seek input from me and his other staff. When I needed assistance to sort some things out, he provided it. If we hit a roadblock, he positively persevered to work out ways around it. But he always trusted that I and his team would do great work and he consistently praised the results.
I was officially working 20 hours per week for him (the maximum I was allowed as an international student studying in the US), while studying with an overload of courses and extracurricular activities. The reality is that I was more than happy to work much more than 20 hours per week, with no possibility of pay, because I felt greatly encouraged by his leadership, his support and his belief that I could do tremendous work. It was a real delight to work for him.
This is the power of true encouragement: it works with people’s abilities and environment to show them how something they deem important can be accomplished. It gives them the energy to pursue their commitment and to persevere in achieving results. True encouragement reaches down to the other person’s core and shows them how something meaningful to them and others can be achieved.
How Leaders Can Encourage Others Around Them
Here are a few tips for encouraging others.
- Develop an attitude of assistance. Seek to help the individual or group to achieve something positive.
- Really listen. Don’t just react to surface comments. Search deeper for why something is an issue. Remember: two ears, one mouth – use them in that proportion. Accept their perspective, rather than just arguing with it.
- Don’t be too quick to give advice. The greater the understanding, the more you target their real needs.
- Use positive language and ideas when responding or speaking.
- Show how something can be achieved. You may want to point to their past successes or examples of similar situations.
- Provide agreed resources – time, money, assistance – in order to help people get their job or changes done. It’s very encouraging to actually see what you have agreed you need being put into place or made available.
- Do what you need to do as a leader. It’s no good spouting empty words and then not doing your job to get things done. That’s discouraging.
- Don’t use empty platitudes. “Buck up, everything will be all right”, with a smack on the back when you haven’t addressed the central issues, is downright annoying. Don’t go there. (You’re not an extra on the movie Independence Day yelling “hoorah” as the president gives a speech about defeating the massively superior alien forces. Let’s get serious.)
- Address fears and roadblocks.
- Walk alongside and in front. Don’t sit at the back of the room giving them all the risk, anxiety and doubt. You need to lead from the front and be alongside sharing the burden with them along the way.
My friend found an encouraging workplace where she can perform at her best. My boss, Peter, knew how to encourage and create those kinds of workplaces. True encouragement affects our minds, our spirits and our bodies – without it, we can easily slip into bad mental and physical health; with it, we can soar to incredibly heights.
We need encouragement as leaders, but our people need it from us. Otherwise, if they’re smart, they’ll happily look for it somewhere else.