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.

Feedback is Required

Are you a leader who struggles to provide your people with feedback? Providing feedback can be a challenge for many reasons. Some leaders think that feedback means having a conversation after a negative event and since they don’t like confrontation they just remain silent. 

Some leaders believe feedback is provided once a year during the dreaded annual review process. Some just believe that somehow, their people magically “know” how they are doing. 

But here’s the deal…. you’re actually providing feedback all the time! 

Each time you speak or listen to one of your people, in your tone of voice, in the words you use, in the silences which you allow, you provide feedback. You demonstrate how far you trust, how much you respect, how much you like or even dislike the person in front of you. 

You cannot not give feedback. If you’re not aware that everything you say and do provides some type of feedback then you’re probably leading (or not) by accident instead of providing your people with purposeful leadership.

That’s a problem.

Intentional, purposeful, specific, timely and meaningful feedback is a powerful motivator. Well timed feedback can put your people on the path to success or help keep them there on challenging days.

By the way, I get that you’re paying people to do a job but also saying thank you for doing that job does not make you a weak leader. A thoughtful “thank you” or “well done” can go a long way towards continued employee engagement.

If you want your people to improve then you must know that feedback is the fuel that fires improvement. Authentic Servant Leaders know that feedback is not just criticizing, it is insightful coaching designed to constructively deal with under-performance. It also will help push high-performing team members to an even higher level.  

The ability to provide intentional feedback is a skill. As with any skill it can be developed through practice; it is best developed through practice with a coach or mentor. 

As a leader it’s likely you often say that your people are your greatest asset. Providing feedback is an excellent way to show that your people are your greatest asset. It gives an Authentic Servant Leader the opportunity to show that they really care about their people.

Here’s a sad leadership reality, too many people in leadership positions are just too lazy to really lead. I call them lazy leaders. Lazy leaders don’t provide their people with feedback because they see it as work. Too much work. They don’t care enough about their people to invest themselves in their people’s development. Feedback is not work, it’s just leading. 

If you’re calling yourself a leader then providing a constant stream of feedback to your people is a must. Don’t wait for the next annual review, don’t even wait for tomorrow, provide feedback to a member of your team today.

How Leaders Think

First a couple of qualifiers: not all leaders think the same and not all leaders are always thinking about the things discussed in this post. But generally speaking, all successful leaders think in these terms and while they have many other thoughts, at one time or another these things are top of mind. So here we go….

Great leaders focus on the mission. Leaders are frequently pulled toward unusual and urgent events that force them in different directions. While these often require the attention of the leader they don’t lose sight of the higher intent of the organization. When the challenge has been dealt with they return their focus to the mission and purpose of the organization. They know where they need to go and they have an actionable plan to get there. They think mission first!

Great leaders are great coaches. They actively look for opportunities to coach their people with the goal of growing more leaders. They coach for corrective action and they coach for positive reinforcement. They delegate to grow their people knowing full well that mistakes might be made. Great leaders also know that those mistakes provide highly valued learning opportunities. Great leaders think coaching, coaching, coaching. 

Great leaders are great examples. They know that people will do what they see their leaders doing. They know that they are the example of successful behavior for their people. They understand that they set the example of good character, knowing their job and doing what matters. They preform as they would have their people perform and they do not expect more from their people then they expect of themselves. Great leaders know the way, go the way and lead the way. Great leaders think in terms of setting an example as much or more than they think of anything else.

Great leaders value and leverage diversity. They know that true diversity goes beyond Equal Employment and Affirmative Action laws. True diversity is understanding, valuing, and leveraging the differences in every person. They seek out differing opinions from people with different backgrounds and demonstrate that people are valued for their uniqueness. Great leaders know that to continue their personal growth they must interact with people who have opinions different from their own and who feel empowered to express them. Great leaders think about broadening the diversity of their organizations. 

Great leaders accept risk. They accept well considered, well calculated risks. They don’t act with reckless abandon, they gather facts, they measure, they ask for advice and then they decide. They decide. They decide, that means that they make a decision. Great leaders know that all the facts, all the advice and all the opinions in the world don’t amount to much if a decision is never made. They think risk and they think about when and why to take them.

The simple truth is that leaders think differently than followers. Leaders see a bigger picture and they see farther into the future. Leadership is as much about mindset as it is anything, if you want to lead then start thinking (and acting) like a leader.