Encouragement is 51% of Leadership

February 4, 2019

By Leesa Childress Sluder, member of the Leadership Development Committee and Professional Coach with the Davidson Clergy Center

“Encouragement provides the emotional fuel that enables people to hold longer, reach farther and dig deeper than previously believed possible. John Maxwell says that encouragement is 51% of leadership. I believe that. As a leader, your role is to give people hope, to build them up and help them believe in themselves in a greater measure than they have before. In short, to live a better life.”—Dan Reiland       https://danreiland.com/encouragement-leadership/  
After almost a decade of coaching clergy (and getting to work with about 150 clergy over the years), one of the greatest joys of this work is to see the light bulb go off after I ask a question about their leadership behavior.  My observation is that often the person was doing a fantastic job encouraging and empowering others, but needed a “mirror” from someone else to notice it.
As Reverend Karen Easter Bayne, Vice President with Wesley CDC, reflects, “Lately, I’ve discovered in my work with churches and leaders how hungry they are for a word of encouragement.  Ministry in today’s shifting context is challenging.  Encouragement is like a shot of adrenaline, just when you need it most.  Find encouragers to speak into your life and work—and be an encourager to those you lead.”
In the article cited above, Dan relates the power of lifting others up with hope and encouragement and outlines some ideas for clergy.  I’d like to add some thoughts to these ideas.
Encouragers naturally draw people to them.
Do people seek you out and walk toward you when you come into a room?  As Dan states “When they see you, they smile and instinctively walk toward you……the point is that people literally move to you because you cause their life to be a little brighter.”  How you show up (your smile, your posture, your openness, and curiosity) creates an energy that people want to be around.  Challenge yourself to enter the room with a new energy and share your spark with others.  Over time, rather than immediately jumping in to solve problems presented by others in conversation, practice inviting the person approaching you to come up with solutions, and you can be the one validating and encouraging their ideas.  It’s the shift of being a leader and empowering others, rather than trying to handle everything on your own.
Encouragers invest generously in others.
Encouragement doesn’t lend itself to a checklist—it needs to be a way of life for a leader. As Dan says “Essentially, sincere encouragement comes from a deep love and belief in people, and a desire to see them experience life in a better way.”  The work of the clergy is hard, never-ending, and sometimes discouraging work, as there will always be difficult personalities in the church environment.  Sometimes, encouragers need to keep investing in others in spite of what is happening in their immediate environment.  One of the quickest ways to counteract a burdensome feeling of being overwhelmed is to encourage and support someone else.  Not only will it feel validating to both people, but your giving energy will also expand and it will give you a reprieve from the negative events that may be zapping your strength.
Encouragers are grateful for what they have.
Dan notes that “gratitude is an essential attribute of leaders who are encouragers.  By being genuinely grateful for what you have, your general disposition is brighter and it’s in your nature to be able to encourage.”
When our kids were growing up, the bedtime routine included saying three things you were thankful for that day.  While the family dog got more than her fair share of shout-outs, it created a mindset of gratitude that they cite to this day.  An encouraging leader stays in a grateful mindset, even in the midst of challenging circumstances.
My friend, Dr. Cindi Ackrill, explained to me years ago that our brains are wired where the same pathway is used for gratitude and anger/frustration---you can actually cancel out a negative thought with a gratitude thought since only one thought gets to use the pathway. 
As you encourage and empower others, they are better able to live out of their giftedness and find ways to serve with joy. This edition of eLEAD offers some tools that you can use with your leaders to help them learn more about themselves and discover the best fit for their gifts.
Leadership Development