Creating a culture of encouragement
Ahh the age old debate. Is the glass half empty? Or is it half full? We've heard this argument before and based on how we answer we get pigeon-holed into one of two molds; you're either an optimist or a pessimist. The longer I look at the glass, the more I think "wait. it's not half empty or half full, it's refillable!"
The glass was designed to be refilled.
As leaders, part of our job is to consistently help fill the glasses of those on our team. It's our responsibility to put gas in their tanks and help them win. People love playing for coaches that want them to win. I'll play harder for a coach that I believe wants me to win, but put me under a coach who does nothing but yell, critique, and complain and I'm looking for a new team.
For the better part of the last ten years, I have dedicated my life to leading people. I love helping others see what they haven't seen yet. I love watching people come alive to their God-given purpose. I love the energy that we all experience when teams and organizations grow.
The older I get, it seems like I'm finding fewer and fewer leaders that know to effectively, and consistently, encourage those around them. Encouraging others is a discipline. It's a skill. It's a tool. But like a lot of men, just because we have a toolbox full of tools doesn't guarantee we know how to use all of them.
I've heard other leaders lament that we have a crisis of leadership in our American culture today. And while I would agree, I think the real problem is a culture problem. It's nearly impossible to develop healthy leaders within unhealthy cultures. Few things are more frustrating to me than watching talented young leaders with great potential get their wings clipped within the dead air of unhealthy cultures.
Unravel the knot within any organization and more often than not you'll find that the problem can be traced back to culture. As leaders, we can't blame our unhealthy cultures on anyone else but ourselves. Your team/organization is perfectly structured to achieve the results it's achieving. Think about that for a minute. Culture starts at the top.
I love Peter Drucker's famous quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
If you think of your team/organization as a vehicle… think of vision/strategy as the fuel, and think of culture as the engine. You might have the best fuel on the planet, you might even have the biggest, prettiest vehicle that’s ever been built, but without the right engine working properly, that vehicle will never do what it was created to do. Sure, it may hold lots of people, have a great sound system, and keep you cool in the summer, but without an engine working properly it'll never move out of the parking lot, and it certainly won’t take you where you hoped it would.
Leaders might help create shape for the culture, but it’s your team that fills it, maintains it, and expands it. That's why it's so critical that we as leaders help fill the glasses of those we're leading.
We need better leaders. Better leaders build better cultures.
How can you help create a culture of encouragement on your team? Here's a few thoughts:
- Examine your assumptions: One of the worst mistakes a leader can make is choosing to operate out of the assumption that people who need to be encouraged will ask for it. This is why it's so critical to be present with your people as much as your responsibilities will allow. Carve out some time each week to breath the air they're breathing. Walk where they walk. See what they see. You'll be amazed at what you learn.
- Be careful what you delegate away: As a leader, you cannot afford to delegate away your responsibility of encouraging those on your team. This is one of the most important tasks of any leader.
- Be intentional with your time: I've been a part of a few teams when the phrase "I'm so busy right now" has come out of the mouths of key leaders. If you're too busy to love and encourage people, then you're either 1) not leading or 2) you're too busy to lead. Take a look at your calendar and see if there's things you could either delete or delegate away (see point No. 2 above)
- Words matter! Few things go farther with me than hand written notes of encouragement. I've kept every note/letter/card that I've received through the years. There's no such thing as giving someone too much encouragement. There's no such thing as someone having too much hope. If you're afraid of giving someone too much encouragement, what are you really afraid of? Can you imagine what would change on your team if everyone felt a sense of empowerment? Have the people on your team heard from you how valuable they are to you?
- Go float some boats: I heard a quote recently that has stuck with me "A rising tide floats all boats." Few things sadden my soul than watching leaders who seem to be driven by climbing a ladder. They'll climb a ladder and don't mind stepping on anyone to get another step higher. If you make it a priority to help those around you succeed, you'll rise with them. Guaranteed.
- Look under the hood: Like I mentioned above, if you think of your team/organization as a vehicle… think of vision/strategy as the fuel, and think of culture as the engine. You might have the best fuel on the planet, you might even have the biggest, prettiest car that’s ever been built, but without the right engine working properly, that vehicle will never do what it was created to do. Sure, it may hold lots of people, have a great sound system, and keep you cool in the summer, but without an engine working properly it'll never move out of the parking lot, and it certainly won’t take you where you hoped it would.
- Stages are dangerous places: Spotlights and microphones are powerful tools when used properly, but they're toxic when you as a leader start tying your identity to how big the stage is, how bright the lights are, or how many people are hearing your voice. Crowds may be inspired from a stage, but leaders are developed face to face. Are you developing leaders or simply attracting followers? Are you as passionate about filling leaders as you are about filling a room?
- Ask crazy questions: You want to mess with your team today? Walk into one of their spaces and ask "How can I help?" It sounds strange, but your people aren't there for you. You are there for your people. People are your greatest asset. "Talk to me about your dreams for this project/space/department/team" "How can I help you be more successful?" You'll be amazed at how your relationships with those on your team will change.
- Listen: As leaders, we're often really passionate about being heard, but rarely are we as passionate about hearing others. I have a hard time when leaders refer to themselves as communicators but scratch beneath the surface and they're not so passionate about listening. Communicating is so much more than being heard. One of the greatest gifts you can give to those you lead is the gift of being heard. When people feel heard they feel loved, when they feel loved they feel like they belong, when people feel like they belong they'll put down roots and fight with you.
- Grace is a two-way street: One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my marriage is that for us to grow together and remain healthy, we must consistently be saying "I apologize" and "I forgive you." I've learned this is just as valuable on any team. Give the same grace to your team that you expect from them. You need as much grace today as anyone on your team. Grace levels the playing field. Resentment and unresolved wounds will suck the air out of any culture. Maybe the first step you need to take towards creating a culture of encouragement on your team is going to your team and owning your mistakes and attitudes. Go first so your team can go forward. As a leader, you'll never rise above the attitudes/behaviors/mistakes you refuse to own.
I hope some of these thoughts have been helpful. What would you add?