Think of the good teachers, bosses and mentors you’ve had in your life. What impact would their instruction have had on you without their accompanying encouragement?
You may say, well, I can think of good instructors I’ve had who didn’t give me kind words of encouragement along the way. I’ll give you that – I’ve had such instructors too. But think about it for a moment, did they not encourage you in their own way. For example, even though they may have had a rough personality and may not have spent a lot of time lavishing praise on you, did they not encourage you by the mere fact that they were willing to invest time in helping you learn? Whether you realized it at the time, or not, it’s likely that this dynamic existed.
What does it mean to “encourage” someone?
- to inspire (someone) with the courage or confidence (to do something)
- to stimulate (something or someone to do something) by approval or help; support
Source: encourage. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/encouragement (accessed: January 30, 2013)
In my experience and observation as a coach, boss, parent, teacher, and mentor, among other roles designed to help other people, I have come to realize that in most cases, the encouragement you provide, however you choose to “inspire” or “stimulate” someone, has a much greater impact than the nuts-and-bolts instruction you give them. This is especially true in kids, but it’s also true in adults.
I believe this to be true because most people do not have a high level of self-confidence. Thus, if you do not do your part to encourage them, to show that you believe in them, at some point in the learning process, their lack of confidence takes over and they decide to quit and move on to something else. Once they’ve quit, no matter how good your nuts-and-bolts instruction may be, they can no longer learn, because they’re off doing something else.
This is not to say that your instruction on the basics of your sport, business, or whatever subject matter it is you teach does not have to be excellent – it does. Rather, it’s to say that if you can combine outstanding fundamentals with a healthy and ongoing dose of encouragement, you will find that the results you achieve will be much more impressive.
I’ve had this demonstrated to me in a number of ways, but it really hit home for me when I left soccer coaching for a few years when I was out of the country. When I returned, I realized that some of the most promising players that I had coached previously had quit the sport and moved on to “greener pastures”. I took a bit of time to analyze who had quit and who had stayed the course, and I realized that there was no way to differentiate the two groups based on talent level. Instead, in the group who hung in there, I saw an excellent support infrastructure (family especially), and in the group who moved on, I saw not such an excellent support system and many times, coaches who didn’t really get the encouragement concept. They were more about focusing on the negatives and overcoming weaknesses. It’s a different style. It’s not necessarily wrong. But I didn’t see it yielding the same result as a more encouraging approach. Again, if the student quits, it doesn’t matter how good you are at teaching the fundamentals and improving weaknesses.
Given that I tend to be a perfectionist and quick to point out flaws (in myself and others), since coming to this realization regarding encouragement, I’ve worked on taking as much negativity as possible out of teaching (parenting, coaching, etc.) and made a concerted effort to instead focus on positive reinforcement. It has taken time, but my observation is that the results are significantly better than what I had achieved previously. This is not to say that I don’t help the people I teach overcome weaknesses – that’s part of teaching – I just try to do it in a way that focuses on encouragement as much as possible.
As a positive by-product, I’ve also noticed that I’m a lot happier in these roles and those I’m teaching tend to be a lot happier as well. That contributes to a better learning environment and only serves to further improve the results. It’s a good deal all around.
Most of my students (and kids, and players, and business associates) would still say that I’m a tough coach, parent, etc., I think, but I think that would be because I have very high expectations for them and for myself. The difference now is that I go about helping them meet those expectations in much more of an encouraging manner. I won’t be changing that approach until I’m convinced there’s something more effective out there.
I look forward to your thoughts! Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.
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