Axiom #5: Leaders are Encouragers

Earlier this year I was supposed to run with a five-person team in the Prince George Iceman – an annual multi-sport race (skiing, running, skating, and swimming) in the middle of winter in northern British Columbia.

Unfortunately, though, the temperature dropped to below -20 Celcius at race time, so the event had to be cancelled (apparently anything lower than that represents a health hazard).  It was a sad day.

Our team, however, decided that we should complete the race anyway, and we should do it a couple of weeks later when it was warmer (“warmer” in northern BC is a relative term!).  It was only -13 when we did the race on our own.  No race bibs, no starting gun, no fans (other than each other!), and no other people to race against.  Just our team and our determination.

My portion of the race was the 10k run, and when you spend almost an hour by yourself running in the bitter cold, you find yourself with time to think.  And time to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.

At one point I was running up a hill, my mind had been wandering for a while, and I was not going particularly fast.  As I came over the rise, I saw two people on the side of the road waving their arms.  As I got closer I saw that it was our skier (who just finished his part) and our swimmer (who would complete the last leg) yelling and cheering for me!  Since there was no actual race happening then, I’m sure they looked weird to everyone driving by, but my teammates didn’t care!  They were cheering for me at the top of their lungs!

When I saw their faces and heard their cheers, I had an instant boost of energy, and I could feel both my enthusiasm and my pace pick up.  It was amazing how a small dose of encouragement increased both my emotions and my effectiveness!

This same principle holds true in leadership.  When we encourage those we lead, we help them become more engaged and more effective.  They benefit, we benefit, and the organization benefits.  There is no downside.  And the more specific the encouragement is, the more effective it is.  While it might be nice to hear a generic “good job”, it pales in comparison to hearing “Your work on the 2014 budget revisions was both accurate and perfectly articulated – our team will make better decisions because of your great work.  Thank you!”.  Which would give you more energy and help you feel more engaged?

If you want to strengthen your leadership:

  1. Within the next two days, identify two people who you supervise and who you could encourage.  Get to know their work well enough so that your encouragement can be specific.  Then .. encourage them!
  2. Identify a co-worker or peer who has been at the job longer than you.  Encourage them.
  3. Write the names of your spouse and kids on a piece of paper, and beside each name, write some specific about them that you can encourage them about.  When you get home (and before you go to bed), encourage each one of them.

Of course, there are many more ways to encourage people (and different people often respond to different types of encouragement).  Can you imagine, though, how your workplace or family would change for the better if there was a culture of encouragement and affirmation?  And the best part is that you don’t have to spend a dime to make that change – as the leader, you can lead by example and be the catalyst for positive and encouraging change!

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