John Maxwell: Encouragement Changes Everything

UPDATED: July 6, 2009
PUBLISHED: July 6, 2009

Today, I would like to talk to you about what an
important tool encouragement is and how we
can use it to truly influence the lives of those
around us.

Several times in my life, I have wanted to stop, but
words or deeds of encouragement have kept me going.
George Adams said, “There are high spots in
all of our lives, and most of them have come about through
encouragement from someone else.”

Years ago, an experiment was conducted to measure
people’s capacity to endure pain. The test was to see how
long a barefooted person could stand in a bucket of ice
water. It was discovered that when there was
someone else present offering encouragement
and support, the person standing in
the ice water could tolerate pain twice as
long as when no one was present. Again,
encouragement keeps us going, no matter
the adversity that faces us.

Encouragement Makes People Better
To further illustrate the power of encouragement, I
would like to share with you an experiment performed
some time ago in the San Francisco school system. A principal
in the district called in three teachers and told them
that, because of their expertise, they were considered the
finest teachers in the system. He also told them they would
be given 90 high-IQ students who would be allowed to
learn at their own pace to see how far they could advance.

At the end of the year, these students achieved 20 to
30 percent more than other students in the entire San
Francisco Bay area. The principal called the three teachers
in and told them he had a confession to make. He told
them they didn’t have 90 of the most intellectually gifted
students. In fact, academically, they were run-of-the-mill,
average students picked at random. The teachers naturally
concluded their exceptional teaching skills must have been
responsible for the students’ great progress. But the principal
had another confession to divulge: These teachers
were the first three names drawn out of a hat.

Why, then, did these students and teachers perform at
such an exceptional level for the entire year? They were
encouraged to believe that they could.
Psychologists say that, deep down, all people have certain desires
in common. If you want to encourage people, help them fulfill these
most basic, heartfelt desires. People want to:
do the right thing. Stand with them.
find better ways of doing things. Empower them.
achieve things they can be proud of. Motivate them.
belong to a group that achieves the extraordinary.
Invite them.
earn recognition for who they are and what they achieve.
Honor them.

Encouragement Turns Lives Around
Encouragement is deciding to make your problem my problem.

I would like to share with you a wonderful story I read in A 2nd
Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul
. The author of the story, Dan Clark,
recalls when, as a teenager, he and his father stood in line to buy
tickets for the circus. As they waited, they noticed a family immediately
in front of them. The parents were holding hands and had
eight children in tow, all under the age of 12. Based on their clean,
but simple clothing, Clark suspected they didn’t have a lot of money.
The kids chattered about the exciting things they were expecting to
see, and he could tell the circus was going
to be a new adventure for them.

As the couple approached the counter,
the attendant quoted the price for the
entire family. The woman let go of her
husband’s hand, and her head dropped.
The man leaned a little closer and asked,
“How much did you say?” The attendant
again quoted the price; the man obviously
didn’t have enough money. He looked
crushed. Clark says that his father, who
was watching all of this play out, put his
hand in his pocket and pulled out a $20
bill and dropped it on the ground. His
father then reached down, picked up the
bill, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir, this
fell out of your pocket.” The man knew exactly what was going on,
and he looked straight into Clark’s father’s eyes, took his hand, shook
it and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, replied, “Thank you,
thank you, sir. This really means a lot to me and my family.”

Clark and his father went back to the car and drove home. They
didn’t have enough money to go to the circus that night. But it didn’t
matter. It encouraged the whole family. And it was something neither
family would ever forget.

Encouragement Gives Hope
My wife, Margaret, and I love to visit presidential libraries and
museums. While most people are in and out, we take our time. I
usually take a notebook and will come out with anywhere from six
to a dozen lessons on leadership.

At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., they had
some of the personal articles Abraham Lincoln had with him the
night he was assassinated at the Ford Theatre on display. Among
those listed, there was a Confederate $5 bill and a worn-out newspaper
article that extolled Lincoln’s accomplishments as president.
The article starts out, “Abe Lincoln is one of the greatest statesmen
of all time.”

Isn’t it interesting that the president of the United States, the most
powerful man in the free world, would be walking around with a
worn-out newspaper clipping in his pocket from somebody who was
giving him praise? If you are a student of Lincoln, it makes sense.
He was never really appreciated until after his death. But here he is,
hanging on to one man’s opinion saying he was doing a good job.

Everybody Needs Somebody
None of us achieve anything without the help of somebody
else. In fact, some of the greatest discoveries and achievements in
history happened because these people were encouraged by others.
Authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien maintained a close friendship
throughout their careers, sharing their love of mythical stories and a
desire to create those stories for the public. It
was Tolkien who led Lewis to Christianity,
and it was Lewis who encouraged Tolkien
to keep writing fiction. It is said the literary
world would have neither The Chronicles of
nor The Lord of the Rings if not for the
friendship between these two men.

One of the great things about encouragement
is that you don’t have to be brilliant
to encourage people; you just have to have a
heart for other people. Find ways to encourage
others. Put your arm around them, and tell
them how much you appreciate them. You
never know if that one good act of kindness
is exactly what they need. As you encourage
others, you encourage yourself.

When giving encouragement, be sure it’s
earned. And remember to keep it sincere,
honest, appropriate, meaningful, balanced
and specific. Think of someone who has been an encouragement to
you. Follow their example and pay it forward to someone you know.
Don’t hesitate; do it today and make a difference in someone’s life.

John C. Maxwell is founder of the INJOY Group, a speaker and New York
Times best-selling author of Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a
Lifetime of Leading.

For additional resources and information on John C. Maxwell visit