Boss — Don’t Withhold Your Encouragement!

Pete Carroll Confetti   It was a magic moment — a beaming Seattle Seahawk Coach Pete Carroll showered with confetti as his team basked in the glow of their Super Bowl win. But obviously that moment came at the tail end of long months of tireless effort. What was it that Pete Carroll did as Seahawks head coach that helped propel his young, untested team to the pinnacle of achievement in the NFL?

I’m sure there’s a long list of things he did do to build his Seahawk team. But based on what I’ve read and heard in the weeks since that memorable Super Bowl victory, there seems to be at least one thing Coach Carroll didn’t do: he didn’t withhold his encouragement. In post-game interviews, player after player repeated variations on the same theme. Pete Carroll builds us up — he lets us be ourselves — he builds on our strengths. He’s an encourager.

Are you someone who hungers for encouragement at work? I am. An encouraging word from the boss, or an encouraging note or email, can sustain me for days! Still, in the past I’ve worked for a few managers who seemed to feel that too much encouragement is dangerous, creating a sense of complacency. These leaders simply never seem to offer encouragement — or if they do they dole it out with an eye dropper. It’s as if I hear them saying, “Encourage your people too much and they’ll stop trying!”

That may be true for some people, but in four decades of workplace experience I have never seen it. Many things can breed a sense of workplace complacency, or more accurately workplace apathy, but I don’t think genuine encouragement is one of them. Quite the contrary, in fact: encouragement energizes. If the boss is distant, aloof, hard to please, or seemingly oblivious to an employee’s efforts, it’s demoralizing. Few things create workplace apathy more quickly than the sense that my efforts don’t matter.

And as the example of Coach Carroll shows us, encouragement is NOT the enemy of performance! Maintain high standards. Hold people accountable. Don’t let up in your quest for excellence. You can do all these things and still encourage your workers by noticing them, complimenting their efforts, asking their opinions, praising them in public and reprimanding them in private. “Seek the good and praise it,” as the old saying goes.

A word to you leaders: if you are the kind of person who willingly and freely gives encouragement, thank you. If you’re not, you can start today. Start offering sincere words of unqualified encouragement. At first your staff may react with skepticism — but keep it up. Your encouragement can be the wind beneath your employees’ wings — or its absence can be the anchor that keeps them tied down in frustration. Your call.

Was Pete Carroll’s encouragement the only thing that caused the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl? Of course not. But take away that encouraging attitude, and the difference Coach Carroll’s encouragement clearly made, and the outcome might have been different. Something to think about!

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