Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Leader Speaks Well of Others

I learned to speak well of others from my mom. My mom speaks well of just about everyone she knows. She can find something lovely, something praiseworthy, something right, or something good in anyone. I used to think it took courage to criticize another's failings. I now realize that it takes greater courage to praise another's giftings. That kind of courage is rooted in a self-less attitude, a genuine appreciation of my teammates, and a confidence that freely encourages the success of others.

Leaders speak well of the ones that they lead. My team should know what I appreciate about them, both as a group and individually. When I notice that someone does something well, I make a point of telling that person directly, but I also try to tell others on the team. Nothing feels better than hearing that someone praised you behind your back! I try to create an environment where teammates speak well of each other, too. I avoid blanket statements like,"Good job, everyone!" and strive to offer genuine, timely, specific, personal feedback. I find that most people are encouraged not only by praise but also by sincere and regular evaluation. When I notice an area in need of attention, I honor a team member by lovingly addressing it in private. When our work succeeds, I try to make sure that team members understand the valuable role that they played in that success. Many times the talents of the people on my team far exceed my own! I'm learning not to be threatened by such people, but to encourage and promote them. When they surpass me, I want to be the loudest voice cheering them on.

A leader speaks well of colleagues. Every leader has equals or peers--people who are in similar roles in different departments or organizations. These are the people with whom I am most likely to compare myself. Comparison is a dangerous sport, and it often leads to unhealthy competition. When I feel like I am competing with someone, I may be tempted to use my words to tear that person down in an effort to make myself look better. Remember how Jesus responded when the disciples started vying for position? He reminded them that to be first in the kingdom of God is to be last here on earth--that is, to put others before ourselves. Do I put others before me in how I speak of them? I'm not talking about empty flattery. I'm talking about sincere praise! When a colleague solves a problem, streamlines an operation, or nails a presentation, do I wallow in envy or stand up and clap? Do I minimize their success or share it broadly? Will I just give them a nod or will I commend them personally, sincerely?

Leaders speak well of their superiors. Most leaders also have leaders to whom they report. How I speak of those above me sets the tone in an organization. If I constantly question the direction of my company, complain about the work load, or criticize the decisions of those above me, I undermine the authority of my leaders. I do not need to agree with every move my organization makes. But if I cannot support the overall direction with a positive attitude and a decent amount of good faith, then it may be time for me to look for a different place to serve.

A leader doesn't kick those who are down. Since we're all human, it's likely that we work with or for someone who occasionally blows it. Our verbal response to another person's failure can be even more powerful than our response to to his or her success. Will I continue to speak well, to support, to encourage, to bless others, even when they have made a mistake? Will I choose to believe the best? Lesser leaders depend on platitudes such as, "Better luck next time" and "Everyone has an 'off' day." Greater leaders will offer thoughtful feedback, help others see what went well even if the final outcome was a flop, and even shoulder a share of the blame. They approach success with a "You did great!" attitude, but they embrace failure with a "Where did we go wrong?" mentality. A great leader will analyze mistakes not to point fingers, but with a goal of  helping others find subsequent success.

A leader puts the kibosh on gossip. Oh Christians, we in particular are gifted at cloaking gossip in reverent terms. "We really need to pray for Tom, I hear his wife just left him." "Have you seen Carol's new car? Bless her heart, did she get a raise?" "I notice that Terry has been late every day this week. I sure hope he's feeling okay." I cannot tell you how many times in ministry a woman has come to me to complain about another woman. They often begin with some dismissive statement like, "I just need to vent!" or "Can I ask you a question about someone?" The minute I hear anything like that, I'm on alert. My first response is, "It would probably be better if you speak directly with that person." I have learned that though I am tempted to "be in the loop," it is better if I encourage people on my team to interact with each other directly. It honors people when I say, "I believe you two can work this out without my help." And when someone shares something with me that has even a whiff of gossip, I need to shut the conversation down immediately. If I do not tolerate gossip, then those with whom I work will quickly learn to avoid it as well.

For thought and discussion: Do you regularly praise others? If you find it hard to praise others, what is the root of your resistance? When do you find it most difficult to speak well of your leaders? Your colleagues? How do you avoid gossip?

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