Are you an encourager or a critic?
Born in Hawaii, Bethany Hamilton was surfing by age seven.
As a teen, she was on her way to becoming an elite champion. Then in 2003, a shark bit off her entire left arm. Most people would have quit. But not Bethany — or her biggest supporters. Her parents and youth pastor encouraged her daily not to give up her dream. After just 26 days, she was surfing again. Today, she’s ranked among the top female surfers in the world. At her worst possible moment, encouraging words helped her rally back. Now, her words of encouragement are an inspiration for thousands of women going through trauma and challenge.
It’s been said that a minute of encouragement during a failure or loss is worth an hour of praise following a success. Bethany’s parents and supporters knew that. As leaders and influencers, we should too. The words we use can make a huge difference to an individual or team; especially when they’re feeling vulnerable.
On any given day, we all have opportunities to support and inspire our
co-workers, volunteers, and family members. Positive words of affirmation are among the most valuable gifts we can give, and they don’t cost a dime.
If we stop often to congratulate those we lead, chances are they’ll bend over backwards to reach or exceed our goals. The kind of engaged, passionate people we all want to have working or serving in our organizations are not driven by perks or financial rewards, but by feeling valued and appreciated.
Conveying that feeling is a skill that all leaders need.
Six principles you can use to help encourage others.
- Assign every task with a word of encouragement.
A simple, “You’ve got this!” can get things off to a great start. To be an effective motivator, let others know you trust them and believe in them. When delegating a task to someone, make them feel indispensable to the team and the mission.
- Don’t expect more from others than you expect of yourself.
People naturally resist being held to unfair standards. It’s discouraging. When a person doesn’t feel up to the task at hand, they generally fail. On the other hand, when their signature strengths are aligned with the job, they’re likely to succeed.
- Calibrate your expectations of others based on their talent and maturity. People tend to fail — or even give up — when expectations don’t fit their skill set. Don’t throw a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool. Instead, get them swimming lessons and encourage them to grow into great performers.
- Clarify your expectations up front.
Nobody can hit a target that hasn’t been identified. Most people fail when roles or requirements are vague. Be clear, then hold people accountable for reaching goals. To build morale, recognize success publicly and coach privately.
- Be flexible about your goal.
Changing circumstances or personal issues sometimes require good leaders to reduce or revise their original expectations. Don’t make the task an “all or nothing” proposition. Recognize and reward a person’s small, incremental wins along the way.
- End with encouraging words.
No matter how successful or accomplished we’ve become, all of us love to be thanked for a job well done. An encouraging workplace environment supports employee happiness. And that leads to greater productivity, worker retention, and overall performance.
Right under our noses.
What’s step one? It begins by proactively looking for opportunities to encourage someone. When you catch somebody (staff, spouse, stranger) in the act of doing something right, point it out! For some reason, it’s easier to criticize someone for getting it wrong than praising them for getting it right, but after a while it becomes a habit. And the world becomes just a little bit better as a result.
But this principle goes way beyond the workplace.
Keep your eyes peeled. When you see an act of kindness or courtesy, point it out. When you see someone going the extra mile or being unselfish, celebrate it. I once read of a young man who keeps a few $10 Starbucks cards in his wallet. He hands them out to random people he catches doing the “right thing.” That can be anything from helping a passenger stow their carry-on in the overhead bin to a busy cashier being extra patient with an elderly customer.
Granted, a gift card isn’t a huge financial windfall. But believe me, even a small, unexpected act of encouragement can change someone’s day. Make sense?
Being an encourager comes easier to some than others, but we all have room for improvement. Whether we’re on a factory floor, a corporate boardroom, or the sidelines of our kid’s soccer game, we can all share encouragement.
Generously. Frequently. After a while, it’ll become second nature.
Encouragement and positive reinforcement can range from a simple thumbs-up to a quick text to a cash bonus. Timing is the key. Getting a pat on the back at just the right moment can inspire a quarterback in a slump or a salesman in a rut or a student who’s struggling with homework.
What makes a winning environment?
Some companies get a reputation for being great places to work. Recruiting is easy and turnover is low. Often, at the core of this high employee morale is an environment that encourages staff to do their best and feel appreciated when they do. If that’s the direction you want to go, it boils down to the difference between being a manager and being a leader.
- A manager organizes, plans, and assigns.
- A leader encourages, motivates, and influences.
There it is. For some, this will take only a slight adjustment. For others, it will be a paradigm shift. And it all begins by rewarding small successes on a daily basis.
If you could benefit from some insights and ideas on how to become a more inspiring leader — in any environment — feel free to contact me. I’d be blessed to have a chance to personally encourage you.
Let’s be encouragers; the world has enough critics already.