The best leaders encourage the people around them in order to motivate them and develop a sense of ownership in the organization. Employees that are engaged in the vision and performance of the organization are more satisfied and more productive. Additionally, they are more innovative and more willing to take initiative that will produce positive results for the organization. The leader’s objective, however, is not only to achieve productivity from the people around them, but also to build into the lives of the people with whom they interact.
Leadership can be defined as influencing; influence is achieved through relationships. Whereas a domineering boss may accomplish today’s task by assigning and monitoring tasks based on position or title, a leader builds a self-motivated team through a culture of relationship and influence. Building such a culture requires a continual practice of encouraging the team members.
An essential first step in encouraging team members is removing the sources of discouragement. Fear of failure is one of the greatest inhibitors of initiative. A culture that does not tolerate failure results in fear and limits risk and initiative. Rather, a leader needs to encourage their people to step out and take reasonable risks. An effective leader rewards and encourages not only successes, but also the positive attempts that produced failures. Failures are viewed as learning opportunities rather than mistakes to be punished.
Another source of discouragement is the fear of rejection. While similar to the fear of failure, the fear of rejection is more about the feeling that one isn’t “good enough” as a person. People have an innate desire to be accepted and rejection might be considered as criticism or condemnation. A leader must avoid judgmental attitudes from themselves or from the culture in the organization. A person who is comfortable that they are considered adequate and accepted will be more likely to step out and seek opportunities to contribute.
Attitude, opportunities, communication, feedback, involvement, respect, collaboration, and character—these are some of the key elements necessary for a leader to encourage his team. Let’s take a more in-depth look at these keys.
Practice a positive attitude. A negative environment can be debilitating, but a positive environment and outlook is encouraging. The best leaders present an example of positivity that then flows through the team. Celebrate successes. Make it well known that setbacks are learning opportunities that will lead to future success, and that problems are opportunities to develop solutions and improve. This is not a “Pollyanna” naiveté, but an attitude of confidence. Be alert and on the lookout for the opportunities for new business and new and better ways to operate. Be an encourager rather than a discourager.
Provide growth opportunities. People want to see their own future growing along with that of the organization. Discuss career and skill development paths and aspirations with team members. Assign tasks and responsibilities that will require growth and learning and be sure to provide a mix of success experiences as well as challenges. Delegate authority, not just tasks or responsibilities. Expect people to come with solutions, not problems. Give people assignments to practice leading in small ways as they grow and develop their abilities.
Keep people informed through communication. Uncertainty breeds questions, confusion, and discontentment. Share your vision and expectations with your team, but don’t stop there. Tell them the “why” with every assignment or request. Share more rather than less information about the state of the organization. Even when the news is not great, it is encouraging to be “in the know.” Communication builds connection, so maintain an open dialogue with everyone on your team.
Provide constructive feedback. People want to know where they stand and how they are doing. The annual performance review is no longer the expectation. It is now important that you provide frequent feedback, both on positive and negative performance. Anyone that is worth retaining wants to know where they stand and how they can grow and improve. Remember to praise in public and reprimand in private.
Seek input and involvement. Just as their people need feedback, a leader needs to gather feedback to identify improvement opportunities. Being asked for feedback imparts a feeling of value. Always be seeking the best thoughts of those around you. Providing input into business decisions pulls people into the ownership mindset while it also stretches and builds their thought processes and skills.
Value and respect people. People are the most valuable resource of most organizations. Feeling known and valued is a great encouragement and it encourages buy-in to the goals of leadership. Take time to know your people as individuals, not as assets or resources. Know their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, goals and aspirations. Listen not just to their words, but also to the hidden meaning beneath the words. Stay in tune with their emotions. Treat them with respect as co-laborers in the efforts of the organization rather than subordinates.
Promote teamwork and collaboration. The camaraderie of the team encourages all of the members. Teams can accomplish more as a cohesive group than can the same number of individuals who are working on their own. They will all share in each individual’s successes and provide input and resources to each other. Building cross-functional teams develops connections and a broader understanding of the organization.
Lead with character. People will only follow a leader that they can trust and respect. Therefore, the character that you demonstrate moment by moment is the most critical element in encouraging the people around you to get on board and behave as if they are owners of the organization. Trust is built through integrity, transparency, humility, and authenticity. Lead with character, competence, and experience, not by title or position.
In the past few articles we have presented some of the Key Practices of Leadership, discussing how leaders develop a position of trust and respect that leads to influencing those around them. We have examined how leaders build their organizations and their people, inspire those around them to achieve a shared vision, communicate to promote clarity and collaboration, challenge by removing constraints and changing mindsets, enable action from others, and now how they encourage people in order to motivate them and build and attitude of ownership in the organization. In upcoming articles in our Leadership Series, we will begin to look at some of the character traits that make leaders effective.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.