When it comes to leadership, I can be intimidating. At least, that's what people tell me. My engine runs at high RPMs, and I tend to be on the type A side of the personality spectrum. I approach most issues in a black-and-white fashion and pursue excellence. Most leaders exhibit similar characteristics. That's why we're drawn to leadership. People want to follow because you are confident, strong, and know what you want and how to get it. But these characteristics can ruin your people (and you) if you're not careful.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. - Prov. 16:24
Leaders can give you a list of ways you can improve. They know the areas that need adjustment, correction, or improvement. This is a necessary ability in leading anything well. They will not long tolerate the status quo, or the organization becomes stagnant, and we all know what happens to water when it remains stagnant. It starts to stink.
However, if this is true, how can we lead well without constantly harping on our people? Herein lies the power of encouragement.
The concept of withdrawals and deposits has been helpful for me when it comes to excellence in leadership. You will inevitably have tough conversations with those under your direction - you know, those conversations that start, "Hey Mike, can we chat about something?" You both know that you are about to take a relational withdrawal from him in the form of a suggestion for how Mike needs to grow, change, repent, or whatever. But, following the bank analogy, is there money in the bank from which to draw? Or is your relational/leadership check going to bounce?
Money is deposited into the leadership bank via encouragement. If there is no consistent deposit into the bank of Mike's life, he is going to burn out quickly, grow to hate you, or simply leave the relationship without warning.
There are three areas in my life that need my continual focus on encouragement: my wife, my kids, and the people under my care at The Vine. Recently, my wife and I have been talking about our oldest child and his need for constant correction. He is having a bit of a bad attitude about school, and it seems to be a persistent thorn in my wife's side as she homeschools. She feels like she has to be "on him" all the time.
We chatted about this concept of deposits and withdrawals and renewed our focus on making deposits of encouragement in our children. If all they hear is correction with no words of encouragement we run the danger of provoking them to anger (Eph. 6:4).
Think of people who have led you in the past. Who are those leaders you loved following? I would be willing to bet that for most of you, the leaders you most loved were those who excelled at encouraging you even as they challenged you to grow.
Now think of those people who have lead you in the past who you didn't exactly enjoy following. I would be willing to bet that those leaders were probably not strong in the encouragement department.
Growing as an Encourager
Obviously, this is a simple concept but quite difficult to master. To grow as an encourager, consider three actions points to implement in your rhythms of life and leadership:
- When you walk into a room with your spouse, your kids, or those under your care at church - really, any leadership setting - try and make a discipline out of speaking words of encouragement in short bursts of improvised blessing. Just make a habit out of it. Make the first thing that comes out of your mouth a simple word of encouragement.
- Many years ago at a conference, I remember Bill Hybels saying that every day when he came into the office he would start the day by writing out five hand-written notes of encouragement to five of the hundreds of people who were under his pastoral authority. This stuck with me for a reason. It's powerful.
- Have parties with your people. And when you do, make a habit of publicly blessing those under your care with words of life in the presence of all those gathered. This will set an amazing tone for the whole group and the person being recognized will be immensely blessed.
What other ways could you think of?
As a leader, withdrawals are going to be necessary. Are you making sure there is money in the bank? In what ways could you be a much more effective leader by pursing continual encouragement of the people under your care?
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up. - 1 Thess. 5:11
Zach Nielsen is one of the pastors at The Vine Church in Madison, Wisconsin, where he serves in the areas of preaching, leadership development and music. He is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and Covenant Theological Seminary and blogs at Take Your Vitamin Z. Twitter: @znielsen
For more resources on leadership, check out Tony Merida's eBook Proclaiming Jesus.
For more free articles on leadership, read: Spiritual Strength Training by David Murray, The Gospel Grid by Jeff Medders, and 5 Ways to Keep Church Discipline from Seeming Weird by Jared Wilson.