All of us are called upon to lead at some point in our lives. There are many skills that a growing leader will have to constantly improve upon; encouragement chief among them. I recently had the pleasure of reading a recent AGO series book from Orrin Woodward’s LIFE Business on encouragement called Encouragement: The Key to Caring by Dr. Larry Crabb and Dan Allender.
The authors did a fantastic job diving into the nuances of encouragement and how to develop the skill to lead our teams. They expand on the idea of encouragement as a process; one that reflects the operation of three principles. Before I highlight those principles, it’s important to understand the authors’ definition of encouragement since it is much different than most would expect.
Encouragement depends on loving motivation in the encourager as well as the wisdom to discern the needs of the other person accurately. The actual words may be admonishing, rebuking, correcting, reproving, instructing, explaining, sympathizing, reflecting, affirming, or self-disclosing. If the motive is love and the target is fear, the words will be encouraging.
This view on encouragement is much wider than I had originally thought. What’s important to note, though, is that the words must be spoken from heart to heart. If any words are spoken from a layer that we put on to cover up our own fears of inadequacy or low self-esteem to a similar layer of the person we’re trying to encourage, the words will have no meaning and may even be destructive. Bill Lewis digs into layers and their hindrance on meaningful encouragement. Encouragement must be spoken in true love directly to the underlying fears of the person we’re encouraging.
With the heart of encouragement understood, the principles of the encouragement process can be applied. The first principle is: Words that encourage express acceptance in the presence of an exposed need or problem.
A person hides behind their layers for protection and acceptance. When they open up their heart and step out from behind their layers, they are exposed. They fear rejection.
Whenever a person’s weaknesses are visible to himself and another, there is opportunity for profound encouragement — or discouragement.
With this understanding of people’s fear, we can see that the strength of encouragement lies in its communication of acceptance.
The second principle of encouragement is: Sometimes understanding is better than advice. The authors elaborate,
Christians must grasp the apparently elusive truth that advice without understanding is not helpful. It is in fact a form of rejection. Quick advice communicates disrespect and disinterest. The words spoken may be “I think that you should….” The words heard may be “Your problem is simple. But you’re too stupid to figure out a solution. So I’ll tell you what to do.
To really convey encouragement through understanding, the authors tell us that,
Quiet listening, sensitive probing, clarifying inquiry, and discerning restatement are a few ways to promote and convey understanding. …The message of the encourager is “I hear you, I want to hear more from you, and I believe you are a valuable human being.”
The third principle in the process of encouragement is: The more precise the understanding, the more encouraging the words. Encouragers must speak words that promote the awareness of a person’s value.
To do so, encouragers need to understand precisely what it is that makes a person valuable. The essential fear that is locked deep in the core of fallen people is the fear of insecurity (rejection) and insignificance (loss of value). If encouragers clearly understand that these two deep longings lie beneath people’s layers of self-sufficiency, their words may reflect a greater understanding of people’s fears. Words that encourage take into account both the need for relationship and the need for meaning. All of us want to know we matter. An excellent way to encourage people is to let them know of the difference they have made in other people’s lives, ours included.
As leaders, whether of home, work, sports teams, or business, we need to constantly understand and develop the skills of encouragement. Remember, though, that encouragement without the right heart isn’t really encouragement at all.