Ask An Expert

Q:  Of all of the behaviors associated with The Five Practices, is there one that really stands out as perhaps key to truly bringing out the best in others? 

A:
I know we're not supposed to play favorites, but I can't help it.  Of the 30 items that make up  the Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI®), there is one specific to Encourage the Heart that I find particularly powerful.  It’s statement #10 that asks Observers to indicate how frequently a leader "Makes it a point to let people know about his/her confidence in their abilities". 

Do you remember as a child trying a new sport or hobby for the first time?  Many of us heard the words, “You can do it!” or “I believe in you!” in those scenarios. Unfortunately, I find that something happens as we get into adulthood and for some reason we stop expressing our belief in each other.  Why is that?  

Just because we are adults doesn’t mean that we stop needing people to encourage us in our gifts and abilities.  In fact, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write in The Leadership Challenge, “Ask people to describe the best leaders they’ve ever had, and they consistently talk about individuals who brought out the best in them.  They say things like, ‘She believed in me more than I believed in myself’ or ‘He saw something in me even I didn’t see’.  Exemplary leaders bring others to life, figuratively speaking.  These leaders dramatically improve others’ performance because they care deeply for them and have an abiding faith in their capacities.”

The research that my business partner at Fine Points Professionals and I have been doing on positivity confirms what Jim and Barry found.  When we have asked, “What is the most encouraging thing anyone has ever said to you?” the top answer is “I believe in you”. And on a personal note, I can attest to the power of these words. I’ve recently had my job role expand to include new things I’ve never done before, and my team has given me specific encouragement about their belief in my ability to excel in these new endeavors. Because of their expressed confidence in me, I find I have a renewed sense of vigor and commitment to accomplish what is in front of me.  Jim and Barry are right… good leaders do indeed bring others to life. 

This leadership behavior—letting constituents know that we believe in their abilities, that we expect the best—also has the power to transform a negative environment.  During a recent coaching session, a VP of a large organization shared how she felt that everyone on her new team was critical of each other and that the atmosphere in her department was largely negative. We discussed how she had a unique opportunity to set the example by starting to implement behavior #10.  In the midst of negativity, I encouraged her to see that when leaders are intentional in expressing confidence in each individual—nurturing and supporting the development of every team member’s potential—they can start to change the environment.  Leaders that intentionally practice this behavior more frequently can help move people from feeling devalued to being believed in.  Even if it’s just one positive voice in the midst of many negative ones, the voice of the one matters.  It’s like someone lighting a match in a dark room—the spark illuminates the potential within that person and they see what can be. 

I encourage everyone to take time every week to meaningfully express your belief and confidence in your individual team members.  Remember, simply knowing you believe in them is not the same as expressing that belief to them verbally.  The more consistently you engage in behavior #10, the more you will see your team push forward to try new things. Your words matter!

Amy Savage
is co-founder and managing partner of Fine Points Professionals, a Leadership Challenge® Authorized Service Provider that specializes in helping leaders increase their influence by changing behaviors. She is a Wiley Certified LPI® Coach with 15 years of experience working with the instrument. She can be reached at amy.savage@finepointspro.com or at http://inspireauthenticity.com.  

RELATED RESOURCES