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on Leading the Next Generation


The Power of a Leader’s Encouragement

Sometimes I forget to do the fundamentals. Here’s one I’ve lost sight of recently: it’s the power of encouragement. As a leader, I’ve learned I can never underestimate the power of encouragement. It’s not a luxury. Team members need it. It has been said that encouragement is the oxygen of the soul. Years ago, an ordinary teacher proved just that.

Sister Helen Mrosla taught in a Catholic school for years. She often spoke of a difficult year when her students defied her every day. A young teen name Mark was the worst. Once, she said she even taped Mark’s mouth shut for talking too much in class.

At one point, the class had worked hard all week, and on Friday they were getting cranky. So, she thought she’d reward them. At a break, she asked each of them to write down the nicest thing they could about every student in the class and hand it in. She compiled the results and gave out the lists. Even Mark got one.

Time marched on and the students graduated.

Several years later, Mark was killed in Vietnam. After the funeral, most of his former classmates gathered with Mark’s parents and Sister Helen for lunch. Mark’s father took a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed,” he said. He carefully removed a folded, refolded, and taped paper—the one on which Sister Helen listed the good things Mark’s classmates had said about him. Although it had been years, this didn’t surprise anyone…except Sister Helen.

Charlie smiled sheepishly and said, “I keep my list in my desk drawer.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck put his in our wedding album.”

“I have mine, too,” Marilyn said, “in my diary.”

Vicky reached into her pocketbook and brought out her frazzled list.

People thrive on encouragement. Most never receive enough. I believe some of the most outlandish things students do are a result of their need for attention and affirmation. Sometimes any attention—even bad attention—is better than no attention. In a world that judges, critiques and votes people off the show”, many students quietly fear they don’t measure up. Sometimes when a student breaks the law it’s simply their attempt to meet a real need in an unhealthy way. Without encouragement, our students will never become the people they were designed to be.

Go look for a student who seems to be crying out for encouragement, and give them the oxygen they need.


  1. Trent Thomas on May 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Such a great story and advice.  As a high school teacher, I just may implement that idea this week in my class.  Thanks for this post, Dr. Elmore.  You are the best teacher on teenage motivation and behaviors I know.  That is why I read your blogs!  (Just thought the leader could use some encouragement).

    • Tim Elmore on May 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks so much for the encouragement Trent. Always appreciated!

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The Power of a Leader’s Encouragement