Encouraging Others to Aim High and Achieve More
I recently heard an excerpt from a very old presentation by Viktor Frankl. Frankl is the well-known Austrian psychiatrist who was put in concentration camps by the Nazis. He famously said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In this video—an old-style scratchy movie clip—Frankl, with dynamic hand motions, talks about the importance of expecting great things from people. His presentation really struck a chord with me. He used an example he says came from his flight instructor. It is a simple illustration: when flying, you must aim beyond the target for where you want to land. This is to ensure that the crosswinds don’t cause you to land short of the landing strip. He then states that this is also how you must treat people. We should expect more and even help them set a target beyond their own assessment of their limitations. In setting this goal, even if they don’t reach it, they usually reach beyond their initial estimation of their capabilities.
Though this seems like a simple thing, how often have you experienced someone in your life who has this type of vision for you? Even when people are in your corner, this level of support seems rare. Just how valuable might it be to have someone in your life who believes in you like this, maybe even more than you believe in yourself?
It is perhaps even more interesting to think about the value we can provide to others if we develop this skill of confidently seeing in them more value than they can see in themselves. What does it take to develop this ability to inspire people to set their sights higher?
Make sure you are grounded. If you come from a negative background, or one where you were regularly put down, this may require some inside work. If you are constantly seeing people’s flaws rather than their good qualities, it takes serious effort to focus on the good. And, if you are too concerned with protecting or promoting yourself, your ability to encourage others will be limited. To help others, you often must set aside protecting yourself to give your full attention to the other person. Vulnerability required!
Commit to believing in them. It is important to make this commitment early. There will be excuses, negativity, complaining, and outright denial when helping someone excel. To really help, you must remain focused on the potential of the person you are helping. They need you to see the target and believe they can get there even when they can’t set their line of vision high enough.
Encourage the next step. Often, even though you can see the whole vision and goal, others just can’t get there. If this is the case, help them set the goal on an intermediate step. If they can’t see running the full marathon, start with a 5K. This process of goal setting can take some patience. Asking questions like, “What can you see yourself accomplishing this quarter?” and “If you were to stretch, what might you be able to accomplish?” and then waiting for the answer may help you send them on the right path.
Recognize individual qualities. I can’t take credit for this idea, but I have found it to be true. Pointing out what people are good at is a great way to help them gain confidence and focus on their God-given talents. And we remember these things when people tell us. Someone once told me I had a great business mind, and that I should trust my instincts more. And years later, this still inspires me to be bolder. Sometimes a few words that point out a specific talent can go a long way. Saying something like, “You have a great talent for _________.”, when genuine, is a huge confidence builder.
Walk with them when it gets tough. Sometimes people need a helping hand. Failure is a learning process, but too much failure is disheartening. A good friend or coach or leader will jump in when things are tough and walk beside you. This happens in many different ways. I still remember an early mentor of mine who offered to spend some time with me quizzing and helping me prepare for a big exam. He was far out of my league in age and station in life, and yet he spent time with me on the little thing that was my roadblock at that point in my life.
Suggest a learning path to open their mind. One common thing that creates a roadblock for people is the need to learn something. A great question to ask is, “What do you need to learn to get through this?” Without a nudge in this direction, we can sit struggling for too long. Often people already know what the right path is and just need someone to help them focus on learning the thing that will get them moving forward again.
Celebrate along the way. It is often the downfall of goal-oriented people to just keep pushing. Encourage the celebration or create it! Make sure to recognize the effort even when it is too early for results. Help the person you are leading take a moment to savor that step in the right direction, even when they haven’t sighted in on the landing strip yet. A little joy lightens the journey and keeps us moving in the right direction!
Let them know how they inspire you. When people reach beyond even their own expectations, it is inspiring. It is a great encouragement to point this out. Let people know in specific terms just how that looks. For instance, “The way you have set your sights on this goal and are relentless at pursuing it truly makes me smile! I’m inspired by your persistence!”
Viktor Frankl probably never guessed his presentation on a college campus so many years ago would continue to inspire people into 2023 and beyond. Let’s persist in encouraging others to think beyond the landing strip. In doing so, we have an opportunity to help them break through their self-imposed limitations and excel!
Scott Hirschfeld is the President of CTaccess, a Brookfield IT support company that has been helping businesses stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business since 1990. Under his leadership CTaccess provides the business minded approach of larger IT companies with the personalized touch of the smaller ones. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.