As leaders, facilitators, or coaches, we all have some idea of the impact we can have on others. What we say and how it’s delivered surely can change a person’s behaviour in the moment. But our personal interactions with others—whether professionally or personally—can also be life-changing in the long term. That’s especially true when we put into action the specific behaviours associated with what I see as one of the most important of Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®: Encourage the Heart. This is a lesson that was brought home to me most recently during a memorial service for a long-ago colleague and friend.
Originally from Australia, I currently live and work in the Middle East, in Dubai, but was back in my home-country after a protracted absence. As it happens, unexpectedly someone who worked for me some 20+ years ago had passed away the day before I arrived. Although we hadn't been in regular contact, his partner emailed me to pass on the news and to ask if there was anyone from all those years ago who could speak at the service. It became clear my return was timely and I was very pleased to accept the honour myself.
The heart-warming memorial service was held on a bleak, wintry day in my former hometown of Melbourne, attended by friends from his varied theatrical and television career. As I had also had a career in the television field as a producer of prime-time drama, I began my tribute by describing how I had first come to know our friend and colleague, when I was asked to take him on as a director. Although I was more than a little reluctant at first, I came to see our friend for the exemplary leader he was, how over time he developed as a leader, the positive impact he had on those around him, and how he continually pushed his own creativity as well as the creativity of others.
On reflection, much of what I spoke about during my tribute was how our mutual friend Modelled the Way and, as a result, how others developed a deep respect for him; how his attitude and what he spoke about inspired others and how he Challenged the Process—challenging himself and those around him to go higher, to deliver better results. I told his gathered friends of the significant trust and respect that I developed with him, as his leader.
After the service finished, I was approached by two former colleagues. It had been a long time since we worked together and even as they shook my hand and said their names, I still had trouble remembering more than a few fleeting details about them. But as we caught up on what we had all been doing with our lives one of them said something which absolutely shows how Encourage the Heart resonates—has an often huge impact on the other person, not just in the moment but significantly beyond that.
He said to me, "Graham, I still have memos you wrote to me telling me how pleased you were with the work I’d done on particular episodes."
Wow, I was incredulous! At least 25 years later he still remembered how I encouraged his heart! Did I remember sending those memos, which he still has? Of course not. (Some of us might struggle to remember what a 'memo' was ...) But the lessons from that encounter are very clear to me: the impact of what we do and what we say stays with the other person long after that moment has passed and long after the person who said it has gone. Of course I remember even from back then when my own heart was encouraged. What I didn't expect, such a long time later, was that what I'd done to Encourage the Heart of another would still be remembered—and kept.
What a gift this former colleague gave me after all those years, telling me that he still remembered what I did. His simple comment to me was a powerful reminder of the impact we have as leaders when we Encourage the Heart—especially for those we’re leading but also with all those who come into our sphere of influence.
What a lesson this is for leaders everywhere. What you say and what you do stays behind, like footprints in the sand. As leaders, we have to make sure they're the 'footprints' we want to leave. And, as leaders, we have a choice in that.
So often the leaders I'm working with struggle to Encourage the Heart for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that others have not encouraged their heart. If only all aspiring leaders could grasp the idea that when you do this, it can resonate in the heart of the other person for such a long time and deliver such great results.
Graham Moore is the first Certified Master for The Leadership Challenge in the Middle East. Originally from Australia and now based in Dubai, UAE, Graham has 20+ years of experience as a facilitator and has been working internationally for the last 12 years. Among his many contributions to the TLC community, he helped capture the powerful story of the Ministry of Tourism of Ajman (one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates) into a video case study available on YouTube. Graham can be reached at Graham@MooreSuccessME.com.