I truly believe that leadership lessons present themselves in the most unexpected moments and it is up to us to discern what those lessons are and apply them to our world. I had such a lesson which proved to be a great reminder of the impact that motivating and feedback can have at any age. When my oldest son turned 5, we went to Sports Connection to celebrate. It’s a kid’s dream with fun stuff including bowling, rock wall climbing, interactive video games, indoor bumper cars and bounce house obstacle courses. My son ran up to an obstacle course that had a sign warning that if the child didn’t have the strength to pull themselves through the high hole, they shouldn’t get help from others because they will not be able to independently complete the fun obstacle course after they enter it.
My son attempted to make it into the hole and wasn’t successful. He attempted again and again, each time stepping further and further back to give himself more of a running start. After about six attempts he called me over. I walked toward him slowly with a deep pit in my stomach. I was feeling conflicted because I knew that helping him up was not the answer; he simply had to do it alone or he would likely fail throughout the course that was just as difficult (and Lord knows I didn’t want to have to go through the hole myself to keep giving him a boost at every level)! As I walked up and squatted down ready to break the news that we needed to move to another obstacle he said, “Mama, I’m trying to get through this hole right here, see? But I can’t…” I started to speak and said, “Auzzie (short for Austin), I can’t lift you up buddy”, just then he cut me off and said, “No mama, I don’t want you to lift me up, I want you to tell me that I can do it!” Just like that, he ran back to get a head start, gave me a nod like a fighter pilot and I yelled, “You can do it Auzzie!” He ran up and didn’t make it. He scooted back a little further, just as determined as before, and nodded to me for my encouragement. I yelled out, “You can do it Auzzie, get it Auzzie, you’ve got this!” He pulled himself up and flipped into the hole, popping right back up just as quick to say “Thanks Mama”! I of course took a picture to remind myself how powerful our words are and to remind myself of the moment when words were the difference between success and failure.
True leadership is encouraging your team to see past the obstacle by making sure that they feel supported enough to go for it, knowing that you are there to support them if they don’t. Even stronger leadership is instilling this in your team before an obstacle presents itself so that they don’t think twice about going for it.
Throughout my career I have found that words of encouragement have contributed to the success of my employees far more often than scolding words. It takes much more patience and stronger leadership to provide constructive criticism rather than destructive, but the payoff is immense. Providing candid positive feedback, that is completely personalized to the situation you are addressing, is key and has been a practice that I have worked into my management style over the years. Often, I will run into a former colleague or team member that I haven’t seen for years and they will mention a compliment or feedback that I shared with them and how much they appreciated it and the impact it made on their life. Some have been comments that I shared over 10 years ago and it stuck with them all those years because it was specific to them rather than an ordinary “great job” comment. In several cases, those words were the difference between taking a different path in life and not. Yes, our words do have that much of an impact! The message that you give to someone can be the catapult for their decision making, and in leadership it is important to be mindful of this key truth because words that you may say in the heat of the moment can greatly impact others because of your rank or role that you have in relation to your team member. Be aware of the power that you hold, whether you believe it or not. Take the time to catch people on your team doing something right and send them an email, text or call them to provide your candid feedback. It’s a few minutes out of your day and will make a huge impact on your team while also helping you to remember that you are surrounded by some great resources.
Make it a great day!