Leadership lessons in unexpected places – the power of encouragement

One of the things I love about being sabbatical is the way new experiences and old texts come together in stimulating ways.  In the last week a small phrase in 2 Chronicles 35 leapt out at me in the light of some of the things I’ve been observing in the USA.  Let me try to unpack…

The later chapters of Chronicles are in many ways depressing books – cataloguing a list of leadership failures in the Kings of Israel and Judah. The general trend is down and most of the Kings fail to follow the Lord, but the odd one jumps out because of their commitment to follow God and we can learn from their choices.

Josiah is one such leader – he’s introduced in 2 Chronicles 34:1-2 in a wonderful way:

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

And we often pick up on his commitment to the Word of God and reform. But it was his example in leadership that jumped out at me.  He calls the people of God to celebrate the Passover – something they haven’t done in many years.  Here’s how it is described in 2 Chronicles 35:1-2:

Josiah celebrated the Passover to the Lord in Jerusalem, and the Passover lamb was slaughtered on the fourteenth day of the first month.He appointed the priests to their duties and encouraged them in the service of the Lord’s temple.

This was a new thing in the sense that they hadn’t celebrated it for years) and Josiah demonstrates wonderful leadership.  First, he gives clear instructions at every stage to people who weren’t sure what they should do. Second, he leads by example by generously providing resources for the Passover (see 2 Chronicles 35:7 – and the way the modelling is mirrored by his officials in 2 Chronicles 35:8-9). And thirdly, and this is my focus in this post, he encourages them – did you see that in verse 2?

leadership lessons - encouragementThe word comes from a root which means ‘strengthen’ or ‘grow firm’ – there is no more important need when you’re embarking on a new endeavour.  (The same root word is behind all the exhortations to Joshua in Joshua 1:6-9).  But to encourage others is a positive leadership trait in any context.

One of the things I have noticed in America is that they are much better at encouraging and affirming on another than their British brothers and sisters. At a conference I attended every speaker was introduced in such positive and glowing terms that as a Brit, I almost felt uncomfortable. In the UK we would probably have poked fun at the speaker or limited ourselves to the most general observations. But these were heart-felt expressions of appreciation of the blessings and personal benefits received from the ministry of the other person.

And it isn’t just in conferences. In almost every day to day context I found Americans to be more positive and affirming than Brits (please bear with the sweeping generalisations in this post – you will understand that there are exceptions that prove the rule in both countries). Having spent a couple of days with academics who are experts in the field of leadership I found myself encouraged and affirmed in an extraordinary way. Folk we met and stayed with had an extraordinary capacity for thankfulness in every situation.

Back to Josiah. One of the brilliant ways in which he demonstrated leadership was to encourage those who served under him. Encouragement is the oxygen that feeds the fire of commitment and influence.  It enabled the people to do something that had never been done “since the days of Samuel the prophet” (35:18) – which (for a time at least) galvanised them in the service of the Lord.  As leaders, then, we neglect encouragement at our peril.

Process Questions

In what ways are you already using the powerful tool of encouragement?
Are there people you lead who would benefit from encouragement in the work they are doing?
How can you find new ways of encouraging those you lead/serve?

1 thought on “Leadership lessons in unexpected places – the power of encouragement

  1. Encouraged to read this, Phil!

    From reading “Watching the English” (Kate Fox), I think these observations fit in with what she describes as “negative politeness” and “positive politeness”. With negative politeness (UK), being polite is about not causing a person any offence (by generally keeping out of the way), whereas positive politeness (USA) leads you to to actively do something to show respect.

    I think we’d benefit from more of the “positive” acts of encouragement you mention – but the negative politeness is quite deeply ingrained…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *