This is the second instalment on a series of articles on ‘The Major Tools of Leadership’. This week’s article focuses on “leaders encouraging others”.
Leaders do not become great by only accomplishing impressive results themselves, but by motivating others to achieve notable actions. The world’s finest leaders have known how to inspire their people to elevate their efforts to the highest levels. Leaders do this by encouraging their followers. While leaders must be internally motivated, followers are often less so. There are at least three primary ways to encourage followers.
The first is through a leader’s presence. It can be demonstrating to serve on the front lines, while the officers are safely ensconced at the rear from danger. The best leaders find ways to be present with their people. President Lincoln travelled to the front lines to support his troops. Before a battle, the Duke of Marlborough passed down the ranks of his men, several thousand each day, until he had looked his men in the eye. He felt if he were to send them into battle, he owed it to them to have acknowledged them personally.
Whether leaders can appeal to every person on the shop floor is not as important as the fact that they are occasionally observed walking the shop floor. A common practice is for executives to hold regular breakfast, lunch or other roundtable meetings with those several organisational levels below them to get to know those employees, and to discover how to make work more rewarding and productive for those employees.
A second way leaders encourage people is through their words. People need to be recognised as individuals, and commended for their contributions. Henry Ford’s biographer claimed the automaker could get his people to do anything for him by the way he spoke to them and inspired them. Napoleon’s dictum was “Give me enough ribbon to place on the tunics of my soldiers and I can conquer the world”. At the close of his illustrious career, the Duke of Wellington was asked if he had any regrets. His response: “Yes, I should have given more praise.” Therefore, words count. They can affirm people or upset people. Words affect people, and can make or break human relationships in organisations. The leader’s words are seeds planted into other people’s lives. What we say affects what we get from others and what others get from us. When we speak wrongly as leaders, we diminish our ability to see and hear the will of the people. But when we speak positive words, they bring life to all. Therefore, leaders’ words have the power to start fires or quench passion.
Thirdly, leaders encourage their people through personal concern for their welfare. Generals such as Ceaser, Marlborough, Wellington and Eisenhower were famous for procuring the best supplies available for their troops. Therefore, one of the leaders’ most valuable tools is the people’s welfare. Leaders who accomplish much must focus on the critical issues at hand until they grasp them fully and discern the solution. Followers will look where the leader is looking. If problem-solving and the welfare is the leaders’ concern, the organisation will zero in on solving its problems. If the leaders’ gaze is fixed on the welfare of his/her troops and the strategic vision, then the people will follow suit. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Bread cast on the waters comes back to you. The good deed you do today may benefit you or someone you love at the least expected time. If you never see the deed again, at the least you will have made the world a better place.” And, after all, isn’t that what life is all about? That is why leaders must discern what is most important in their organisation, and refuse to be side-tracked by secondary matters.
In conclusion, no one is able to do the work of a thousand people simultaneously, but a great leader is able to inspire a thousand people to do their individual parts diligently. By prioritising the welfare of their team, steering focus to the end-goal and connecting with the team on not only an organisational but a personal level as well through word and deed, a leader can guide their ship in the right direction. A verse in Proverbs says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so” (3:27 NKJV). We have something in our possession that can bless someone. Maybe it’s a timely word, a much-needed piece of advice, a monetary gift to meet a need, or a simple thank you for a job well done.
I leave you with the following quote from John Mason, “Some People can Live an Entire Month from a Pat on the Back or an Encouraging Word”, as food for thought is the subject matter.