Priorities are what we do. Everything else is just talk!
Encouragement is absolutely essential to sustaining people's commitment to organizations
Numerous studies have surveyed a wide range of North American leaders and workers to determine common threads among those who performed at high levels over extended periods of time. Overall, the results are not particularly startling. One leadership behavior characteristic, however, stands out as having surprising influence on those we lead: encouragement. How well we encourage others has great significance and relevance to our leading a company for Christ.
A Framework for Encouragement
James Kouzes and Barry Posner, previous co-authors of several excellent books on the topic of effective leadership, have done a great job of highlighting the benefits and practices of encouragement in Encouraging the Heart, one of those rare books that combines unusual insight with practical application tips. Subtitled A Leader's Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, this practical handbook contains 150 ideas to encourage those you lead and lays out the 'Seven Essentials of Encouraging.'
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1. Set Clear Standards. We dealt with this earlier, but the concept bears repeating. It's encouraging to know what is expected and how good performance is defined. Lacking clear standards, our team is unlikely to become increasingly competent in their ability to positively impact our business. When they have no other standard beyond 'hard work,' their goal is simply to be seen as 'hard workers.' Unfortunately, without clear standards, hard work is not necessarily correlated with productive or profitable work. This can result in 'stretching' assignments to try to make them seem more difficult in order to be seen as working hard and overcoming adversity. This is, of course, precisely 180 degrees from the valuable best practice of continually simplifying and streamlining activities to reduce cost, time and errors. Without clear standards, we have no way to truly tell whether tasks are being stretched or streamlined, even though we might 'have a sense' that this is being done. Confusion and frustration can often result, exactly the opposite of what our leadership should promote!
2. Expect the Best. This is axiomatic. When leaders expect excellence from their team and express such expectations to them, the team accomplishes more. When leaders accept or express low expectations or a lack of confidence in their team, under-performance is sure to follow as assuredly as night follows day!
3. Pay Attention. For leaders, this is a close cousin to the principle termed 'management by walking around' (MBWA) popularized by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their 1982 chart-topping business book entitled In Search of Excellence. MBWA is a leadership best practice which involves being seen as physically and emotionally present in the day-to-day processes of the business. This practice was further popularized by another best-selling book of the same time period by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, entitled The One Minute Manager. Employees expect for leaders to set and reinforce standards for good performance and to show a keen interest in their application. This means staying involved in the action and not allowing ourselves to become remote, disinterested or completely out-of-the-loop. This especially applies to key 'touchpoints' when we have opportunities to thrill or disappoint our customers. We need to be actively and personally aware of how we're doing at these times of transaction and value-delivery, both internally and externally.
4. Personalized Recognition. There are, of course, many kinds of recognition and all of them can be effective in particular situations. But the recognition that the top leader gives, in person, is almost always the most powerful. Earning a medal is always memorable to a soldier. Having it pinned on by the Commander-in-Chief while receiving a personal commendation makes it significantly more meaningful. It is extremely effective and encouraging to our team when we 'catch them' doing something right and then recognize or reward them for it. This also enables us to use their example in stimulating others toward elevated performance.
5. Telling the Story. Our company culture is largely built by the stories we tell as we highlight examples we admire and celebrate our internal heroes and heroines. The retelling of such stories reveals the heart of our business- the essence of who we are and what we value as illustrated in the actions and lives of team members. Unfortunately, most of us are lousy storytellers, especially in the positive sense. We often focus on relating what others have done wrong, telling cautionary stories and warning against this or that, while rarely describing what has been done particularly well. Correction seems to come much more easily to us than compliments. While prevention is important, negative stories possess limited encouragement value since they necessarily involve recounting unsatisfactory situations. Telling our story involves communicating and reinforcing our cultural message by giving real examples of great performance using the various people and topical areas at our daily disposal. We can do this via newsletters and other company communications, in our meetings, in orienting newly-hired team members, in announcing promotions, through our advertising, and in our rewards and recognition events.
6. Celebrate Together. Once we've identified desirable goals and behaviors, we need to begin actively celebrating our victories together. Celebrations are fun and encouraging times when we stop to honor activities and accomplishments which are important to us. They can relate to a person, an event, or a team goal attained. We both acknowledge the importance of achievements and encourage others when we celebrate together. Celebration helps to fuel human accomplishment. During such celebrations, our team follows our lead. When they see us excited or pleased enough about something to celebrate it, they are encouraged to pursue such things as well. As we've so often mentioned in past discussions, the things that we value and do speak volumes to those who watch us!
7. Set the Example. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, leaders lead. If we want our team to encourage one another we must start by actively encouraging them. To stimulate excitement concerning these seven practices we must model them first. If we don't believe encouragement is important, and actively practice these principles, our team never will.
The statistical evidence cited by the authors concerning the benefits that accrue through the intentional practice of encouragement is very convincing and squares neatly with logic, our experience, and the Bible. Whether or not we seem to possess the God-given gift of encouragement, we can all relate to the benefits of an upbeat, encouraging atmosphere.
What Leadership skills do you possess? What leadership skills do need to focus on or sharpen?
“Thanksgiving is the end of all human conduct, whether observed in words or works.” -