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Family photo with 6 of us
Are you up for an honest self-assessment? If so, answer this question: On a scale of 10 (high) to 1 (low), where would you rank yourself as an encourager of others? Do you give freely? Or do you withhold from others even when it is within your power to give?

My father was a task-master. He wasn’t always the easiest person to please, and when my siblings and I missed the mark, he made sure we knew about it. However, my father also held tremendous power to elevate us in ways that allowed us to see ourselves in a whole new way, making it an indelible memory. Like the day before he died when Dad told my son that his mother was the strong one in the family – an angel. Or the day in mid-summer when my father passed on a blessing to my brother Pat who was only ten years old at the time. I found out about that when my father turned 80.

My seven brothers, my sister and I decided to surprise Dad by taking a trip to my parent’s home in Arizona from Michigan, where all of us lived and grew up. My mother knew to expect us, of course, but to my father it was a total surprise.

As part of my father’s birthday party, we created a video from photographs taken during his life from the time of his birth up to the current age, adding music to accompany each decade of his life. You know the type. At the end of the video, we decided to add individual clips where each of us would look directly into the camera and share with my father the difference he had made in our lives.

Each clip was heartfelt; some were funny, some tongue in cheek. But my brother Pat’s was the most memorable. Looking directly into the camera, Pat said, “Hi Dad. I know you won’t remember this, but when I was ten years old, I played little league baseball. You would come to every game and sit just behind the dugout and a bit to the right. Our team’s pitcher had a wicked fast ball that all the kids were afraid to catch for. Well, during one game, the pitcher threw one of his famous pitches, injuring the catcher. The coach came into the dugout and said, ‘Hey Fellas, who wants to catch?’ And, Dad, before anybody could say anything, you yelled from the bleachers, ‘Pat’ll do it; he’s not afraid of anything.’

Well, Dad, those words have been with me my entire life. When I was sloshing through the rice paddies in Viet Nam with a platoon who depended on me, I was scared, but your words rang in my ears, ‘Pat’ll do it, he’s not afraid of anything.’ And that got me through. Then, when I got out of the service and went to law school, I was afraid that first year that maybe I didn’t have what it took to make it, but there were your words ringing in my ears, ‘Pat’ll do it; he’s not afraid of anything.’ And even today when I’m facing a tough judge in court and my case isn’t all that great, I still hear your voice, ‘Pat’ll do it; he’s not afraid of anything.’

Dad, I’m sure you never realized the difference you were making in my life when you spoke those words, but your words have helped me though every major fear I’ve ever experienced, ‘Pat’ll do it; he’s not afraid of anything.’ I cannot tell you how grateful I am, Dad, for those few simple words. They have made all the difference in my life. Thanks, Dad. I love you. Happy 80th birthday.”

My brother Pat has been wildly successful in his life and he credits much of it to those eight little words spoken to him when he was ten years old.

I often wondered if my brother has ever considered how his life might have been different had my father not spoken those simple words when he was just a boy. But my father had not withheld. He spoke words that exploded with positive power into the psyche of my brother Pat, making an indelible difference in his life.

If you are a leader in your organization with direct reports, or in a position to influence others – customers, colleagues, or members of your own family – how would you rank yourself when it comes to giving words of encouragement, words of faith in another’s ability, words that forecast how you see someone accomplishing what they have set out to accomplish?

If you want to make a significant difference in your job, at home, and in your life, be your own best coach by asking yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time I spoke something truly positive into the life of another?
  • Who could use a word of encouragement?
  • How often throughout a week do I give the “gift of words” to my direct reports? Colleagues? Customers? Spouse? Significant other? Child(ren)?
  • What excuse have I been using for not speaking into another’s life?
  • For whom do I want to be an enduring influence?
  • What can I do to remind myself to open my mouth and speak life and energy and belief in self into another?

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