Everyone Needs Encouragement

This post has a pretty simple title. I’m hoping that everyone who reads this knows that unarguable fact. 

 

Knowing it isn’t enough. If you’re a leader you must actually provide encouragement to your people. Consistent, planned and very intentional encouragement. Now, before you say that you “do that all the time” stop for a moment and think. Think about the last time you actually stopped long enough to truly focus on someone else and provide them with meaningful encouragement. 

 

How long has it actually been?

 

If you’re thinking that “nice work” or “keep it up” or “way to go” is actually encouragement then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. Passing someone in the hall and tossing a “nice job” their way is not encouragement. It’s not a compliment and it most certainly doesn’t pass muster as a sincere Thank You. 

 

Actual encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement, rather than specific outcomes.

 

To encourage someone ask them how you can help them. Offer to assist (doing someone else’s work for them is not encouragement) them with advice or ideas. You may be surprised at just how powerful the simple question “How can I help?” really is.

 

Asking questions to help them uncover their own ideas is also a great encourager, especially when you point out that the idea is their very own.

 

Offer encouragement in public, let everyone see what a difference true encouragement can make. When you bring encouragement out into the open you develop a culture of encouragement within your organization. 

 

Providing real encouragement to others requires practice and preparation. Authentic Leaders set aside time to make certain this vital leadership responsibility does not fall through the cracks. Keep your eyes focused on your people and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to offer real encouragement. 


It might not be easy or even comfortable at first but keep at it. Once you become an habitual encourager you’ll wonder why you didn’t develop this awesome habit long ago.

The Coaching Cookie

I frequently start leadership presentations by asking the audience to share in one word a key responsibility of leadership.

 

It doesn’t take long for someone to come up with the word “coach” and they are exactly right. Leaders should always be coaching their people towards their next accomplishment and greater success.

 

Too often however leaders believe the time for coaching is only when corrective action is required. They coach to “fix” someone or something. Now that’s certainly appropriate but it shouldn’t be the only time you coach. 

 

Another great time to coach is when someone has done something well. That’s when you coach for positive reinforcement. The key difference between the two of course is that coaching for corrective action is best done privately while coaching for positive reinforcement can be done publicly. 

 

Early in my career I was taught the concept of “The Coaching Cookie.” This is a practice we use when coaching for corrective action. It begins with a compliment, then you state the area needing improvement and finish up your coaching conversation with another compliment. 

 

In the hands of an Authentic Servant Leader that concept can work well. It works for them because their compliments are sincere and they provide in-depth information as to exactly what needs to improve, precisely what “improvement” will look like and how it will be measured. Their “cookie” isn’t filled with fluff, it’s filled with nourishing insights. 

 

The problem I have with this particular coaching concept is that too many people in leadership positions simply use it as a conflict avoidance tool. They focus on the compliments while understating the corrective action required. These “leaders” are more concerned with avoiding conflict than building people.

 

Anytime you’re going to coach your people, for whatever reason, you should be very thoughtful about it. Invest some time in getting this right. If you’re going to use the Coaching Cookie then make sure your filling is meaningful. Be clear, be specific and add a dash of accountability by including a date to review whether the improvement was achieved. 

 

Avoiding conflict by failing to coach your people isn’t helping you and it most certainly isn’t helping them. 


One characteristic of a truly Authentic Servant Leader is that they care enough to coach even in difficult circumstances. Do your people see that characteristic in you? If not you have the power to change that; you only have to decide that you will.


Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 

 

Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 

 

If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 

 

They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.

 

As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 

 

When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.

 

That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 

 

You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.


Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can. 

The Limits of Good Mentoring

I’ve been truly blessed throughout my life to have great mentors. I knew they were great mentors because every now and then they would say “I don’t know, you should probably ask someone else.” 

 

I’ve written several times on the importance of having a mentor. No matter your age, your current level of success, your title or your position within your organization, you will do better tomorrow if you have a mentor today. What’s more you’ll be even better off if you have multiple mentors. 

 

Here’s why. 

 

One of the things that make a great mentor is that they know what they don’t know and they didn’t pretend that they know it. 

 

You can have a mentor who is a brilliant business strategist but not so capable with their people skills. You can have a managerial genius as a mentor but that doesn’t mean they are great leadership coaches. 

 

Those “gaps” don’t mean they are a bad mentor. It’s when they attempt to fill those gaps with guesses, rumors, and plain old BS that they become a poor mentor. I suppose there are mentors who do have a vast amount of knowledge across a very wide spectrum of skill sets and situations…..I just haven’t found one.

 

I’d much rather have a mentor, and much much rather be a mentor, who occasionally has the confidence to say “I just don’t know,” and “I don’t want to steer you wrong so I can’t answer that.” 

 

This may sound a bit counterintuitive but if you have a mentor that has an answer for every question and advice for every single situation then it is very likely you don’t have the right mentor for you. 

 

Having more than one mentor helps overcome the limits that all truly good mentors have. When you have multiple mentors you are more likely to have a mentor with deeper experience in the area(s) where you need help. When you have mentors who look at the same situation but view it from different angles you’re provided with a deeper understanding of what you’re dealing with and that makes a successful outcome much more likely.

 

If you don’t have a mentor today then find one today. Find someone who you feel is successful, someone who cares enough about people to share their “library of experience,” and someone who is willing to invest a part of themselves in your success. 


When you find someone with those characteristics then you have found a mentor and when you’ve found a mentor you’re that much closer to finding an even greater level of success.


Why You Need a Mentor

I am darn near perfect. The only thing that keeps me from just outright declaring my perfection is that I am also very humble. If other people could see my perfection the world would indeed be a better place!

I remain perfect pretty much right up to the time someone who cares about me talks some sense into me… then I see a little different me.

You don’t see yourself the way others see you. You may not think you’re perfect but because you’re human you likely hold yourself to a somewhat different standard than you hold others. It is much easier to state your principles than it is to live them.

The person that talks some sense into me is called a mentor. (or my wife but that’s a different post) They are a truth teller. They see my world from the outside, without the fog of ego, defensiveness, shame, and the need to be liked.

They see me the way others see me and they paint me a picture so I can see it too. 

That helps me be a better me. If you want to be a better you then you need a mentor. If you don’t want to call them a mentor then call them a coach. You can call them whatever you like but they need to care enough about you to invest in your growth by being honest with you. Even when “honest” hurts. It’s okay to be friendly with them but they don’t necessarily have to be a friend, it might be better if they weren’t. 

You can hire a professional coach or select someone that you admire and that most people see as successful… however you define successful. Whether your coach/mentor is paid or not that best way to repay them is by following their advice. Listen, REALLY LISTEN, to what they have to say, linger on their words until they sink in. If you’ve picked the right mentor then they are telling you the truth. If they are telling you the truth then you NEED to listen. 

Regardless of your current level of success you will be better off with a mentor. Even if you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career you will be better off with a trusted sounding board. 

A coach or mentor will not tell you what your principles are, they just help you live them.

When to Hold Your People to Account

Most people preform better when they are held accountable for their effort and results. Unfortunately the term “accountability” carries with it a negative connotation. It is assumed that we hold someone “accountable” for their mistakes or actions. While that is true we can also hold people “accountable” for the things they do right.

Accountability is not about blaming or judging someone. It is absolutely not about punishing someone for a mistake or lack of effort. True accountability is about coaching. 

Accountability can fail for a variety of reasons, the most common is that for many leaders accountability is just an off the cuff hallway conversation about “doing better” or “getting on the ball.” 

Effective accountability requires a bit of planning and strategy to ensure that the “accountable person” understands what they are accountable for. 

Accountability coaching must be clear and concise. An accountability discussion must be just the facts, certainly no exaggeration should be included. The discussion must include exactly what is expected of the person being held to account. It must include exactly when it is expected as well. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to help your people succeed. If they don’t have what they need to succeed then all the coaching in the world won’t make a difference. You must ensure that they have the required training, resources and feedback required to succeed. If you can’t, or won’t, provide the tools they need to succeed then you can’t ethically hold them accountable either. 

As a leader you should remember that you are their “model” for success.If you’re trying to hold them accountable to a standard that you fail to meet you’re just wasting their time and yours. 

You cannot let your emotions disrupt the accountability discussion. The more emotion you display the more emotion the recipient of your coaching will display. When emotions become involved things tend to slide downhill quickly. Deliver your comments in a caring, empathetic way, but keep your emotions in check.

If you’re coaching for improvement then address the issue early, waiting almost always allows the issue to grow. It’s easy to just “let it go” when it’s small but ignoring problems seldom accomplishes anything. 

Above all remember to also coach for positive reinforcement. Hold people to account for the good things they do, let them know they have been “caught” performing well and that their efforts are appreciated. 

If you coach only for improvement you’re likely negatively affecting the morale of your team. They will get the feeling that they can’t do anything right and soon enough that will be the case. Accountability coaching will require an investment of time on the part of the leader but it is an incredible tool for building future leaders when it’s done well. 

 

Do it well!