What gets rewarded gets repeated. And one of the most accessible and affordable forms of reward you have in your toolbox as a leader is encouragement.
When you see a behavior or attitude you like, name it and ask for more.
For example, when you see a team member take an extra moment to carefully explain a new process to a colleague, you can something like: "Yes! Thank you! That kind of collaboration is exactly what I want and makes our team stronger, more of that please!"
If you're not the type of leader to speak in exclamation points, that's fine too. You get the idea.
But being able to actually encourage your team in the midst of the whirlwind of daily work is challenging. Under the pressure of deadlines, client requests, or upcoming events, your interactions with your team can devolve into a series of urgent demands followed by little thanks and even less genuine connection.
Here's three steps toward becoming a more encouraging leader:
Recognize that encouragement, like a muscle, can get stronger over time. If you didn't experience a lot of affirmation in your formative years or early in your career, it might feel odd to your sensibilities as a leader. Push through that awkwardness; the more you encourage, the more you'll develop the cadence and the words that work for you and your team culture.
Invest in encouragement as a competitive advantage. Compliance energy is given to those in authority. Commitment energy is reserved for those who are known to genuinely care and appreciate others. If you want the best from your people, be willing to invest in their lives with your words.
Speak in the specific, not the general. Lazy generalities like "you're so amazing!" can quickly devolve into banality. [This is part of my stable of leadership weaknesses.] Develop the discipline of observation to see the particular efforts and attitudes of your team and reflect back them the impact of their work. Even if they're performing to standard on a basic job function, acknowledging and appreciating their effort helps inject a little extra humanity into their world.
Not every team member responds to verbal encouragement, and it may not be a frequency you resonate with either. But the cost of encouragement is simply a slice of your attention, and the impact can bear dividends for a long time.
What gets rewarded gets repeated.