We can give courage to others by equipping them – giving them the tools, skills and mindset they need for a situation, task, mission, purpose or challenge they are facing.
Of course, there is equipping in the sense of giving physical equipment, but that is not the focus of this chapter. We can assume that if the mission is to mow a lawn, they will feel more confident if they have a mower.
Here we will talk about equipping through encouragement. One of the most powerful ways to use encouragement to equip people is collaboration.
Collaboration is a great way to achieve breakthroughs. Breakthroughs often take courage. Once a breakthrough is achieved, it inspires a higher level of courage for the next challenge, and also for the next breakthrough.
When two people collaborate in order to achieve a breakthrough for one of them, they are equal partners in the endeavor. They have different responsibilities, but they should be equally motivated to achieve the breakthrough, even if one appears to benefit more than the other. I’ll call the partners the “client” (the one who needs the breakthrough) and the “consultant.” The consultant may be the client’s manager. Or the partners may be coworkers, spouses, siblings, or friends – relationships where “rank” is not in play. It can be a parent and child, or a pastor and parishioner. Regardless of the relationship, they enter the collaboration as equal partners.
One may be more experienced, more successful, wiser or smarter than the other, but they each bring equal value to the table. The spirit is more of a brainstorming session than a coaching session. Even if the client’s expectation is for the consultant to provide a solution, the conversation is a joint effort so the client is buying in, internalizing, contributing to, and owning the solution each step of the way. Providing a solution results in gratitude, but collaboration results in ownership. The consultant doesn’t seek credit for providing the breakthrough. The client receives credit for achieving the breakthrough.
The consultant asks about the client’s situation and thoughts. Once the client responds, the consultant says, “Let me tell me what I heard, and tell me what you think.” The collaboration is off and running.
In collaboration, if the consultant has a suggestion, she doesn’t say, “Here’s what to do.” Instead, she says, “Suppose you did/said this, what do you think would happen?”…“Is there another approach you think would work better?”…“Do you feel as though this is the right thing to do/say?” (Or she could ask, “What do you think is the right thing to do/say?”)…“Would you be comfortable doing/saying this?”…“Is there anything about it that doesn’t feel right?”…“Is this what you’ve decided to do?”…“When will you do it?”
Remember that your primary purpose is two-fold:
- To arrive at a solution you both believe is right.
- To give the client the courage he needs for that situation, and for all others in the future that are similar.
Since the purpose of the collaboration is a breakthrough from where they were to where they need to be, keep the word “breakthrough” in play. The question at the beginning is, “What is the breakthrough you most need in order to get where you are trying to go?” The question at the end is, “Have you found the breakthrough you were hoping for?”
Equipping for Self-Sufficiency
Sometimes equipping takes the form of teaching. Here I’ll move into the corporate world to address some equipping issues that often challenge leaders. Suppose you are in a leadership role, and you are partnering with an employee named Frank who reports to you. You are equipping Frank to achieve a breakthrough in an area where he lacks courage. Frank is trying to avoid a difficult conversation he needs to have with a customer. You know you are going to have to tell him what to do and how to do it, and he doesn’t feel confident about it going in. You need to give him specific direction in order to equip him, so you are directing him as you collaborate with him. You want to encourage him to do it in the true sense of giving him courage. You want him to believe in himself and in his purpose.
The equipping you provide can still feel more collaborative than authoritative, even though you are telling him what to do and holding him accountable for doing it right. Your goal is to give him direction in a way that encourages him, equips him, gains his belief in himself and in his purpose, and makes him feel empowered and self-sufficient for this task in the future. Here is a 6-step process to follow.
- “Here’s what to do.”
The first step is the obvious one. You and Frank need to agree that this conversation with the customer is his responsibility, and he needs to tell them the answer is no. You also need to agree on the definition of a successful outcome for his conversation with the customer.
Of course, there will be times when this one step is all it takes. Sometimes the employee already knows all he needs to know in order to accomplish the task successfully. He may already be self-sufficient. But if he isn’t, then you keep going through the rest of the steps until he is.
- “Here’s how to do it.”
This is the instruction step. You tell Frank – or show him – the exact approach you want him to use. You may need to role play with him or get him to demonstrate to you that he can do it.
Ask him if he feels comfortable and confident with his skill. If he’s not, stay with him until he is. Show your confidence that he can do it, and explain why you believe he can do it – what it is about him that equips him to succeed in this conversation he needs to have.
- “Here’s why to do it that way.”
When you see uncertainty or reluctance for the task or the technique, it may be because he’s not confident in how to do it. We just covered that.
But another possibility is that he doesn’t understand why he should do it the way you described, or why he should do it at all. Why does the answer to the customer have to be no? Why does Frank have to be the one to deliver it? He may need a better understanding of the reasoning behind the responsibility. In other words, the belief factor is missing.
He needs to believe he can do it right, but he also need to believe it’s the right thing to do. This can be a crucial part of your encouragement. It’s not about babying Frank, it’s about strengthening him. Belief is a vital element for empowering the people you lead to become self-sufficient.
So step 3 is where you instill belief by explaining the purpose and the reasoning.
- “Will you do it? When?”
Here is where you “close the deal.” This is often the danger zone for giving direction, because it is often where responsibility loses its traction. The assignment slips through the cracks and never gets completed.
It’s great for Frank to say that he accepts, understands, and believes in the task, but he also needs to commit that he will do it. And, just as important, he needs to commit when he will do it. A commitment without a timetable is not a commitment. It is only a statement of intent.
This is the stage where the process turns the corner – Frank’s ability begins to grow into self-sufficiency. If there are any fears or reluctances still lurking in the background, they should rise to the surface at this point. There is no place left to hide.
Frank is telling you he’s good to go, and he is giving his word that he will do it. He is going to have the conversation. He is going to tell the customer the answer is no. He will be respectful. He will give the truthful explanation of why the company believes it’s the right thing to do. He will stay consistent in his answer, even if the customer turns up the heat. He will do it because he believes it’s the right thing to do.
At this point, having this conversation with the customer is no longer just about Frank’s responsibility, willingness and ability. Now it’s also about his integrity, because he has given his word to you.
- “Call me after you’ve done it and tell me how it went.”
This is the debriefing stage after the assignment is completed. It develops like this:
- “How did it go?”
- “Do you feel good about the outcome?”
- “Is there anything that didn’t feel comfortable?”
- “Is there anything you wish you had done differently?”
- “Are you glad you did it?”
- “Did it raise your confidence?”
This kind of reflection is especially important when the task causes Frank to step out of his comfort zone, as it did in this case. He is describing to you his experience during the conversation – how he felt, how the customer responded, how it ended, how he feels about the conversation in retrospect, and what he learned from it.
If the direction you gave him didn’t work, then you have the chance to figure out why, and make adjustments so it will work next time.
The goal hasn’t changed. It is still self-sufficiency for Frank.
- “Can you do it by yourself next time?”
This final step is the payoff. It’s where self-sufficiency with this task is completed. It’s where Frank commits that he has taken ownership for completing the task on his own from now on. He won’t have to bring it to you again. And it’s not just this one task. It’s other similar tasks, where the same skills and perspectives you have taught him can transfer. Now his new level of confidence and self-sufficiency can gain momentum of its own. The opportunity to embrace these kinds of growth challenges now energizes him instead of draining him. It motivates him instead of intimidating him.
This spirit of self-sufficiency you’ve inspired in Frank also paves the way for the next step, where you tell him:
- “Whenever you bring me a problem, bring me your proposal for a solution.”
Here you have encouraged, equipped and empowered through collaboration. You have also combined encouragement with accountability. The first 3 steps involved equipping by creating skill and belief. The second 3 steps equipped by adding commitment and accountability. All 6 steps combine to build courage.
Now let’s talk about how accountability joins forces with encouragement for equipping. We’ll stay in a leadership capacity in the corporate world.
Balancing Encouragement with Accountability
Providing the right balance of encouragement and accountability in the right way is the single most important action item for bringing out the best in the people you lead, and also for being the kind of leader that people want to follow.
Providing the right kind of encouragement provides powerful motivation. Requiring the right kind of accountability is an equally powerful motivator. But when the two are provided together in the right combination and balance, that stimulates the kind of belief, energy, determination and commitment that empowers your employees to unleash their full potential.
Encouragement and accountability may sound like opposite dynamics for leadership – the fun part and the hard part. Instead of focusing on the tension between these two ideas, think of the compatibility between them, even the interdependence between them. Think of them as being totally in harmony, belonging together, enriching and improving each other.
Encouragement and accountability work hand in hand to inspire and empower the people you lead, because it takes each of these two forces to complete the other. Encouragement without accountability can become hollow over time. Accountability without encouragement can become depleting. Each without the other eventually undermines a relationship, or even a group culture. But the two in balance together help to build relationships and cultures of mutual respect and mutual trust.
People actually want to be held accountable as much as they want to be encouraged. And they expect a leader to provide both. Failing to provide either one is equally harmful. As a leader, you want to be equally enthusiastic about providing both, because they are equally valuable.
Since this entire book is about encouragement, let’s focus here on the accountability side of the equation in some detail, because many leaders struggle with accountability. But the principles we will be discussing also apply to mutual accountability in other relationships.
Holding Employees Accountable
Encouragement brings out the best in people by showing that you believe in them and respect them. It helps motivate them to achieve greater heights in order to meet the expectations of a leader who believes in them. Accountability brings out the best in them by leading them to keep raising their bar and expanding their reach, and to take responsibility for their own results and their own continuous improvement.
The first thing to remember about accountability is that people really do want to be held accountable. On the surface it may not seem as though this is true, but when you go deeper you realize it is.
Telling employees you believe they can be even better than they already are is a higher compliment than telling them they’re as good as they’re ever going to be. To say it another way, when you hold a member of your team accountable for adhering to the standard, you are telling them you believe they can do it. When you don’t hold them accountable you’re telling them you don’t believe they can do it, or you don’t really care.
So they want you to hold them accountable, and they also expect you to hold them accountable. In fact, enforcing the team standards is actually one of the most important expectations they have of you as a leader. They know that meeting the standard is their responsibility and that upholding the standard is yours. They know that holding each member of your team accountable is one of the least comfortable parts of your job, and also one of the most important.
They expect you to fulfill all of your responsibilities as a leader, just as you expect the same from them. Leaders who don’t hold all team members equally accountable lose credibility. Leaders gain respect when they uphold the team standard and defend it, and they lose respect when they don’t. So employees are actually holding you accountable for holding them accountable.
We know that employees want their leaders to hold everyone else accountable. It may be harder for individuals when it’s their turn to be held accountable, but they also realize it’s part of the deal. In their hearts they know the truth when they’re dragging their team down by ignoring the standard, and they don’t feel any better about themselves or their leader when it lingers on without being addressed. More often than not, being held accountable by a leader increases their respect for the leader, as long as it’s done respectfully.
Turn Requirements into Commitments, and then Manage Commitments
Earlier in this chapter we discussed 6 steps for giving direction in a way that leads to empowerment and self-sufficiency. After explaining the requirement in steps 1-3, step 4 (“Will you do it? When?”) turned the requirement into a commitment. This step is where accountability sometimes falls through the cracks. We don’t “close the deal.” Turning a requirement into a commitment is where you close to deal and make it easier to enforce accountability.
A requirement is something we are told to do. A commitment is something we have given our word to do. A requirement demands obedience. A commitment demands integrity. So turn requirements into commitments by asking for a commitment. The sense of accountability is stronger when it’s based on commitment to a leader than when it’s based merely on obedience to the leader’s authority.
And remember, a commitment without a timetable is not really a commitment. A commitment to perform a task or meet a standard says four things:
- Here’s what I will do.
- Here’s how I will do it.
- Here’s when I will get it done.
- You have my word, and you can count on it.
This is the kind of commitment that puts integrity on the line.
This applies to personal relationships as well as organizational ones. When people put their expectations of each other in the form of commitments, the payoff is that from that point on, managing the behavior of the other person is no longer about managing the person, it’s about managing the commitment, which is a much easier concept to get our arms around. It’s more tangible and less elusive. So here’s the concept in a leadership context:
Manage the employee’s commitment first, and then manage the employee within the context of that commitment.
When you put the focus on managing the commitment instead of managing the employee, you take all the intangibles out of play – mood swings, personal agendas, individual strengths and weaknesses and preferences, other stuff that may be going on – it’s all out of play. The issue is the commitment, nothing else.
Now let’s take all of this and apply it to a topic that many managers find stressful – addressing an employee’s need to improve. So now we’re not just talking about encouraging them and holding them accountable, we’re talking about what happens when encouragement and accountability don’t seem to be enough. The fact is they need to improve, and they need to do it fast. If they don’t, they can’t be on the team any more.
Addressing the Need to Improve
If you have an employee whose attitude, behavior, or performance is not up to the team’s standard, you want to address the issue with them in a way that leaves them in a better place than they were before the talk. You may need to give them some hard truth about the urgency of their need to improve, but your goal is still to give them the courage to succeed. They have to believe they can, and they have to know that you believe they can. So prepare for this conversation with a “happy ending” in mind. As you envision the happy ending, here’s what it looks like:
- They have as much (or more) belief in themselves as they had before. Their confidence was probably less than 100% because they knew they were underperforming. The most important thing you can do to build their confidence is to restore their belief in themselves.
- They know that you still believe in them. Even though their performance is not up to the standard, there is no doubt in your mind that they have the ability to succeed. The exception to this is when you know they really don’t have the ability, because it’s the wrong line of work for them, in which case the conversation sounds more like this: “How do you feel about being in this line of work? Do you think it’s right for you?” If they say yes, then your approach is, “Then here’s what you need to do, because I need for you to meet the same standard that everyone else is held to.”
- They know exactly what they need to do in order to get back on track, and they know how to do it.
- They know that once they do it, everything will be fine. But if they don’t do it, then this is not the right place for them, and they owe it to themselves to find the right place.
Throughout your conversation, make sure they believe that you sincerely want them to succeed. As obvious as that may sound, the reality is that in these situations employees often do not believe that their boss really wants them to succeed.
Then make sure you lead the conversation in the spirit that the employee will succeed. It’s collaborating about their need to improve. It’s not talking down to them, and it’s not threatening them, at least not until every other approach has failed. Collaboration sounds more like this:
- “Let’s put our heads together and figure out a way to get you where you’re trying to go.”
You are listening as well as talking, and you are getting feedback along the way that leads the conversation toward the right conclusion. You draw out responses from them the same way you would with a friend you are helping to reach a conclusion:
- “How do you feel about what I’m saying?”
- “How does this sound to you?”
The goal of a conversation about the need to improve is to:
- Gain commitment that they will improve.
- Agree on a plan, a timetable, and an expected outcome.
Remember that your team expects you to engage in these conversations and not avoid them.
A moment ago, I described your own internal vision of what a happy ending looks like. But there is also a vision you share with the employee. It’s your vision of who they can be. Think about this vision before you have the conversation.
- Who do you really believe they can be if you join forces with them to unleash their best performance?
- What do you really believe about their potential?
- What do they need to do to unlock that potential, and how can you help them?
- What qualities have you seen in them that could make them more successful if those qualities could be tapped into, and if the barriers holding them back could be torn down?
- How much can you discuss these thoughts with them?
When it’s time to bring closure to your conversation about improving, here is a final sequence you can follow if you haven’t already gotten there:
- “What I wish for you is…”
- “I believe you can do it, but I need for you to do it. Can you commit to that?”
- “Do you understand how important this is?”
- Then tell them what will happen if they don’t improve.
This is also a time to remind them, if necessary:
- “I’m responsible for maintaining the standards and protecting the well-being of the team.”
If they agree to do it and then don’t, that’s when the integrity issue kicks in. Here are three sound bites you can use to instill a higher level of urgency for honoring their commitments:
- “You made a commitment to me, and you didn’t honor it. Where do we go from here?”
- “I need to know that you take your commitments seriously.”
- “I need to know that when you make a commitment I can trust you to honor it.”
You can be compassionate and still be firm. You can be supportive and also be serious. But at this point you can’t leave any wiggle room.
The employee’s motivation is that you believe in him, you want him to succeed, and you’ve told him how to succeed. The next step after that is the consequences of failure.
Equipping with encouragement in a collaborative spirit requires a mutual commitment between the equipper and the equippee to the success of the equippee. The equipper is giving courage, and the equippee is receiving it. Both are equally important. Over time you will find yourself in both positions, and understanding the principles here applies to both.
Sometimes you may find yourself in both roles at once, where you are equipping yourself with no one to help you. When you find yourself as your own collaborator and encourager as well as your own equipper, the ideas in this chapter can contribute to the quality of your self-talk, even for holding yourself accountable.