This is my 24th fall semester of teaching. As I come to the end of the semester I find myself reflecting on the nature and importance of feedback. I have also just finished reviewing the 5th practice, of the five practices of exemplary leaders: “Encourage the heart”. Exemplary leaders – ordinary people who through their words and actions add value to the lives of others. An important dimension of this 5th practice is feedback. According to Kouzes and Posner, authors of “The Leadership Challenge”: “Feedback is at the center of any learning process, a necessary component of self-reflection and growth. Without feedback there is no learning”.
Encouragement is a form of feedback. It is more positive and personal and has the potential to strengthen trust between the giver and the receiver. In this sense it may be the highest form of feedback [K&P].To truly give encouragement we must first be able to give affirmation – to recognize the worth of the other person for who they are and the value of their contributions.
Beyond this ability to build trust and to strengthen relationships, encouragement is an essential component for the ongoing maintenance of excellence, and perseverance in the face of adversity [K&P]. As oxygen is to the body so is encouragement to the soul. I have had the opportunity to speak words of encouragement to others and be in the place to receive encouraging words. Encouragement does have the ability to feed your soul, to cause you to straighten your shoulders, hold your head high and move forward with resolve. Lack of encouragement/feedback can undermine our sense of vision and purpose. I have stood in that place of wavering resolve and I am aware of several situations where this lack of encouragement has had a debilitating effect on individuals and their motivation to continue on.
We have the tremendous privilege, if we would choose it, to stand in the place of the encourager. The very act of actively listening to another person can be a source of encouragement and affirmation. The words that we speak have the power to produce life or to destroy it. Your encouragement, like a word spoken in season, has the power to produce life, and add value to those who receive it.
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