As a young boy, I loved watching “On the Road,” with Charles Kuralt. As advertised, it always made me feel good, warm inside. They were merely brief segments during the CBS Evening News, yet they always left me uplifted. Sadly, the feel-good shows of yesteryear, the Andy Griffiths of TV Land, have all but faded. Today, we are bombarded with a steady flow of negativity. The 24-hour news cycle fuels a constant flow of everything bad that is happening in the world. News shows have become so polarized that they incite fear and hatred. The school yard bully still exists, but social media empowers even the weak and frail to lash out in a thousand hurtful ways, injuring victims in ways far more painful than a bloody nose. It has become acceptable to note every flaw, every fault, every poor choice anyone makes.
If we’re not careful, we’ll become experts at finding fault in everyone, yet blind to the good qualities they possess. Leaders (parents, coaches, teachers, managers) if we truly want to inspire our families, friends, co-workers, and employees to stretch a little farther, reach a little higher then we’d be wise to lift them up more frequently. Encourage those striving to be better, support those doing their very best, champion their strengths and boost their self-confidence. From the most talented people you know to those struggling just to get by, we all respond better to positive feedback.
Early in my military career, I traveled to Fort Irwin, California for a month-long training event. During that event, I served as the Adjutant (Chief of HR & Assistant to the Squadron Commander). My job had very little to do with operations, yet we were practicing wargames, so naturally, I volunteered to lead a planning team to help solve our tactical problems.
After the last big battle of our rotation, we attended an after action review – an event during which we discussed all the things we did well and what we needed to improve upon. At those events, we commonly found that we had far more weaknesses to improve upon, than strengths to sustain.
Following the after action review, I exited the building. Just as I walked out the door, I felt a hand grasp my arm. It was one of the cadre members, Captain Mike Lundy. He pulled me around to the back of the building. Assuming I’d somehow messed something up, I feared the worst, but to my surprise he told me, “Lieutenant, you did a great job during this exercise. You’re going to be a very good leader. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Then he patted me on the back, and I walked back around the building to join my unit – felling like a million dollars.
That captain took one minute to encourage me, to tell me I was doing a good job, and I’ve never forgotten it. He got a lot of mileage out of that quick bit of positive leader behavior. I, like most everyone else I’ve encountered in my life, respond well to encouragement. As leaders, we would be wise to go the extra mile to seek out opportunities to encourage others. Become an enthusiastic cheerleader for those we lead.
I’m not suggesting that we do not correct inappropriate behavior, nor am I saying we should overlook mistakes. Recently, in a men’s class at church, we read these words. I could recommend no better behavior for leaders.
“I come … with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I’m suggesting that we accentuate the positive. I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.
I am not asking that all criticism be silent. Growth comes with correction. Strength comes with repentance. Wise is the man or woman who, committing mistakes pointed out by others, changes his or her course. I am not suggesting that our conversation be all honey. Clever expression that is sincere and honest is a skill to be sought and cultivated. What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism. Let our faith replace our fears.”
It’s not hard to identify faults. Heck, I know I supply ample material for even the most pathetic critic to become a success. But, if we want to truly get the most – the very best – out of those we lead, we need to take a closer look at ourselves. We must honestly ask ourselves, am I a positive leader? Do I inspire those I seek to lead, or do I berate and criticize far too often? I suggest we begin in our homes. Practice finding the good in our own family members. Make positive reinforcement a habit, something we truly excel at. Before long, we’ll develop a keen eye for the good in those around us.
Being positive is choice. Make the decision today!