Encouraging Words

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

While preparing for a workshop I’m facilitating this week, I pulled an oldie but a goodie from my bookshelf. In 1987 James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner published The Leadership Challenge in which they named the five practices of exemplary leadership. In 1999, they published a book focusing on one of those five practices, Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. In the forward, Kouzes and Posner explain that they focused on this practice because they couldn’t find enough resources on this topic and because they wanted to push back against the idea that these practices are soft and mushy. To quote the authors, “If you’re after results, then you’d better start paying attention to encouraging the heart.”

Here are a few of my favorite quotes and lessons from this book:

“Leaders create relationships and one of those relationships is between individuals and their work. Ultimately we all work for a purpose and that purpose has to be served if we are to feel encouraged. Encouraging the heart only works if there’s a fit between the person, the work, and the organization.”

“…it’s interesting to note that the word encouragement has its root in the Latin word cor, which literally means ‘heart’. So does the word courage. To have courage means to have heart. To encourage – to provide or give courage – literally means to give others heart.”

“When you’re out there paying attention to the positive, you’re highly visible, and you also make yourself known to others. While you’re getting to know them, they’re getting to know you. Who do you trust more, someone you know or someone you don’t know?”

There’s a lot to like in this little book, a lot to think about and explore, but there’s also practical advice as they lay out seven essentials.
1. Set clear standards
2. Expect the best
3. Pay attention
4. Personalize recognition
5. Tell the story
6. Celebrate together
7. Set the example

One of the things I find interesting about their formulation is that it starts with setting clear standards. In my experience when we talk about the human side, about encouragement, this is not a component. It really is soft and sometimes a bit mushy. But not here. In this way of thinking to encouraging the heart we do the hard work of being clear for ourselves and for the people who work in our organizations. We let people know what success looks like and that we expect their best effort. Next we do the hard work of paying attention – supporting people as they learn to meet the standard, holding people accountable, and most of all looking for the successes that are happening.

This means we have to be out and about seeing what’s happening. We have to be alert to the good work that’s happening. We have to be curious and ask what’s going on – not to check up on people but to learn. Curiosity about people and their work is a critical component of showing that you care. For leaders to encourage the heart they first have to be engaged with people. To improve morale, we have to be out there seeing what’s working and what’s not. To develop new ways to work in our ever more complex environments, we have to be curious about the ways in which people work. We also have to be willing to learn what the work really is rather than what we think it is.

If your staff is feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated and you’re feeling at a loss to help, these essentials might be a good place to start. Asking yourself which of these practices might be useful for you to try, might be helpful to your team, might give you a new way to analyze what’s going on. How can you en-courage your team? How might you give them heart?

Take care,


PS – All quotes from Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (1999) Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). See below for a link.

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