Leaders Encourage the Heart

At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision. Daniel 9:23

Daniel 9:23 is an amazing verse but have you read it in the New International Version? The translators chose the following “for you are highly esteemed”.

“Greatly loved” – “Highly esteemed”.

Here is Gabriel, God’s messenger sent specifically to Daniel, telling him that God says he is “highly esteemed”. How good is that? To be told by God, that in his eyes you are highly esteemed. This was not a passing comment from God, because it’s recorded in chapter 10 when, on another occasion, Daniel is told this twice more.

God had seen Daniel’s humility, faithfulness and knew of his agony of heart as he earnestly sought to see God’s plans and purposes worked out. At this crucial time in the history of Israel and the outworking of God’s redemptive plan, God sought to encourage Daniel’s heart as well as to give him greater insight and understanding.

Whenever I read this passage I always wonder what it would be like to be told by God that I was “highly esteemed”. As Christians, reliant upon the blood of Jesus, we know we are but what would it be like to specifically be told that by God. That would encourage my heart for sure.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:21

In Matthew 25, in the Parable of the Talents we are told something about what the Kingdom of God is like. We normally focus on the good and bad stewardship but here we also see something else about the Kingdom of God. Good service is noted, commended, celebrated and rewarded. Such a response is a natural out working of the servant heart of Christ. This is the heart that we desire as Christian leaders; the model to which we aspire.

Leaders Recognise Contributions by Showing Appreciation of Individual Excellence

The recognition of quality contributions is not simply to make people feel good but according to Kouzes and Posner it is to “keep hope and determination alive”.

Achievement is hard, significant achievement always has a cost. Often it demands perseverance in the face of difficulties and in good times it still requires commitment and effort. Either way it is evidenced by the often sacrificial expenditure of physical, emotional and spiritual energy. Every time such expenditure is not valued, not noticed, it demoralises those concerned and hope and determination die a little.

Recognition encourages people and shows that they are valued.  In “Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge” Kouzes and Posner have a wonderful expression:

 “Leaders get the best from others, not by building fires under them but by building the fire within them.”

Recognition Needs the Context of High Expectations

A team member tells of his boss always saying “Well done” and ‘high fiving’ whenever he completed a piece of work, even when he knew himself that this piece of work was not good.  He observed that, because of this, he never knew where he was. Both his good work and poor work were equally celebrated.  Was he doing a good job at all?

This story tells us that recognition needs to be real; it needs to be for real achievement and it needs to be appropriate.  Also, when work is off-the-mark that needs to be recognised too and appropriate guidance given.

Thus to mean anything to the recipient, recognition must be based on the expectation of excellence, achievement of goals and demonstration of values. Without this it has no meaning. In fact it can be detrimental because it causes the leader to lose the respect of the team; it makes them look as if they don’t know the first thing about what is going on. It also sends the message that the contribution of the team member is of no real significance, in which case why do a good job at all?

High expectations are important because there is lots of evidence that people respond in keeping with the expectations placed upon them. Low expectations lead to poor performance while people are happy to rise to high expectations and the sense of achievement they bring. Positive expectations lead to positive results. The standards that establish the expectations must be clearly known and understood by all.

Recognition needs to be Personal

‘One size fits all’ recognition, i.e. the same thing for everybody, may seem fair and avoids the charge of discrimination, however it can have the opposite affect to that which is desired.  ‘One size fits all’ says the individual is not valued nor is their achievement, it suggests it was simply their turn.

Somehow recognition needs to acknowledge the individual and therefore reflect them as a person. This means the leader needs to know his people well.

Catch People Doing Things Right

Genuine recognition, arising from genuine efforts and achievements, can only happen if the leader is out and about. Leaders need to be out there with the people who are doing the job so that they can catch people both doing the right things and doing things right. It provides opportunity for spontaneous recognition as well as capturing stories to share with the team as example and inspiration. It also enables the leader to be transparent. They not only identify the people who deserve recognition but know how to personalise the recognition. They are able to do both in a way that allows everyone to know that it is genuine recognition and, therefore, that they are valued.

Do you remember in Reflections on Leadership we identified six actions by leaders that affect an organisation’s culture and thus determine the character of that organisation and the behaviour of its people.  One of them was what the leader measured. The agreement of clear standards, incorporating the shared vision and values, and the transparent and consistent recognition of performance and achievement in line with those standards is one such measurement.

Leaders Celebrate the Values and the Victories by Creating a Sense of Community

In the context of recognition, celebration is a significant way of expressing our respect and gratitude for others. It also provides opportunity to share stories and raise spirits. Celebrations help develop and refresh a sense of community.

The recognition we have considered so far is focused on individuals and small groups.  Celebrations provide the opportunity to recognise that achievement involves the effort of many people, including those who are far less visible than others. Celebrations are, therefore, a way of developing and refreshing team spirit. They also provide an opportunity for team members to know and care about each other.

The Best Way to Encourage the Heart is to Lead like Jesus

The whole purpose of Growing the Servant Heart is to explore what it means to be a Christ-centred servant leader, in other words what it means to lead like Jesus.  Such leadership emerges from the indwelling character of Christ and expresses his servant heart and God’s agape love. This works out in the leader’s focus on, and concern for those whom they lead. It becomes visible because the servant heart of the leader seeks to:

  • enable those he leads to have a clear vision and purpose,
  • understand how they contribute to achieving the goals,
  • enable and equip them to achieve those goals.

In short the leader’s constituents are significant, valued and appreciated.

I recall a time in the mid 1980s when there was still a company called the Digital Equipment Corporation or DEC. They were innovators in computers and were eventually bought by Compaq who in turn were bought by Hewlett-Packard. –  that is why you may never have heard of them.

Long, long ago, before desktop PCs were on every desk and long before laptops were feasible, the company I worked for used a DEC VAX computer. This was a powerful multi-user machine used to develop software for telecommunications systems.  This computer became so over used and became so slow that a simple task that should complete in one minute would take fifteen and so on. It was so slow that programmers took books to read while they waited. The machine was hampering progress and frustrating the programmers.  Imagine the anger and frustration when our financial officer celebrated the fact that no other computer could be so cost effective because it was used so completely.

There was no consideration for the programmers, and their lost and wasted time was given no value at all. They were not equipped and enabled to do a good job let alone an excellent one.

Imagine also a Christian organisation where the servant character of Christ and the values of the Kingdom are not lived out in leadership practices. They exist, even where you would not expect. Image for a moment how that undermines the leaders themselves and demoralises Christian staff.

Leading from a Christ centred servant heart, that values people and seeks to enable them to achieve their best in God’s service, is one the most effective ways of encouraging the heart.


  • Take a Moment. If you can, read Chapter 7- Reflections on Encouraging  the Heart, by Ken Blanchard, in “Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge”
    • What do learn from this?
    • As a leader, what will you differently now?
    • What is your action plan to accomplish this?

  • Take a Moment
    • How often do I go out looking to “catch someone doing things right”?
    • How am I consciously paying attention to what people do?
    • How can I do these things better?

  • Take a Moment
    • How can I help my team celebrate our achievement and build team spirit?
    • How can I establish clear standards for my team so that recognition can be consistent and genuine?