Susan Hileman of RED Day Communications is a trusted mentor of mine, teaching me how to be a people-centric leader. She has been behind the scenes helping me train leaders for many years. Last month, after reading my IndustryWeek column, she encouraged me to write about “intentional encouragement.”
To be honest, I am not sure I had ever heard the term. I had to Google it. Intentional encouragement has biblical roots, but it is applicable in everyday life. It means valuing others above yourself and encouraging them to fulfill their interests, without expecting anything in return.
The original “intentional encouragement” came as my husband and I were hiking up Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains. With a mile and a half left to go, someone had scratched a note on a stone that read, “Almost There!” That note was just what we needed in order to not quit and turn back. The next mile and a half would be the steepest climb of the whole trip. But we knew that a stranger was rooting us on, and we were not going to let them down.
‘I’ll Run Beside You’
A week later, we were in Utah for my boys’ fall break from school. Their basketball coach had asked all the players to run one mile every day during the break. Here we were at about 7,000 feet above sea level, heading out for a run on Brigham Young University’s track. We had made three laps out of the four when my youngest son was about to give up—the high altitude made it harder for him. I told him to run alongside me. I would talk while we ran the last lap together and distract him from the effort. Along the way, I explained that his dad had done the same for me when I first began running. It felt good to pass along this “intentional encouragement.”
‘Let’s Hear It’
Later in the month, while I was facilitating the manufacturing executive peer group for the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services, one executive said, “I have a challenge I simply don’t think anyone can help me solve.” The participants were all up for a challenge, so they replied, “Let’s hear it.” Immediately, one of the peers gave an option for solving the challenge that had not been considered before. The executive was relieved to find that he was not at the end of the road and had the support of his peers with a way to move forward. The whole experience left me feeling inspired and encouraged.
In business, a servant leader is one who seeks to serve their followers first. Only after trust and rapport are established do the followers begin to help their leaders fulfill the mission of the company. Intentionally developing others and encouraging them to grow is the secret sauce.
Now, share with me how you see “intentional encouragement” manifesting itself in your life. When you start looking, I bet you will start seeing more people helping others.
Ashleigh Walters was president of Onex Inc. through 2022 and is the author of Leading with Grit and Grace.