I have never been good at giving the “you’re doing a great job” type of encouragement to my staff. Don’t get me wrong, I do realize that encouragement is valued, and that to sustain a productive and innovative culture, leaders must give encouragement. When there is a lack of encouragement, employees wonder if they are valued, and may question if what they do matters to the organization’s success.
While I do from time to time offer up the platitudes of “nicely done” or “good job,” the main way I encourage staff is through delegation. And not simply by delegating mundane tasks that nobody wants to do, but by delegating challenging and meaningful activities.
In our organization, there is an endless list of interesting, innovative, and important projects that we never seem to get to. I have learned that when only relying on senior employees to accomplish these tasks they never seem to get done. Thus, junior and new staff must be able to carry the weight of leading and accomplishing these projects.
At a fundamental level, I believe that most people want to do work that stimulates and challenges them. I have learned that employees are more likely to be engaged and thrive when their boundaries are pushed slightly beyond what they think they can do. I have seen first-hand how employees will rise to the challenge of working on a project that is new to them, but that requires them to use hidden talents and develop new skills.
My employees have sometimes been surprised by the level of responsibility, and thus, trust, I give them. An interesting result is that the more important and challenging the work I entrust them with, the more encouraged they feel.
I believe that one of the most important tasks we have as leaders is to help our employees evolve through delegation. An added benefit of this is that we also end up encouraging our staff.