Thomas Edison’s teacher said he was a poor student. His mother was furious at that characterization and took him out of school and taught him at home.
Edison gave this account of the incident in an interview published on Nov. 29, 1907: “One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer. I was so hurt by this last straw that I burst out crying and went home and told my mother about it. Then I found out what a good thing a good mother is.
“She came out as my strong defender. Mother love was aroused, mother pride wounded to the quick. She brought me back to school and angrily told the teacher that he didn’t know what he was talking about, that I had more brains than he himself, and a lot more talk like that.
“In fact, she was the most enthusiastic champion a boy ever had, and I determined right then that I would be worthy of her and show her that her confidence was not misplaced.”
A positive word of encouragement can help change anyone’s destiny.
In many ways, Mrs. Edison was a genius herself, at least at motivating and encouraging her son. Did she know that he would become one of the most prolific inventors and thinkers in history? Perhaps not, but she wasn’t going to risk limiting his potential the way his unfeeling teacher was willing to.
In the same vein, good managers have a responsibility to offer encouragement to workers to help them achieve at their maximum level. Otherwise, why would they bother to hire and pay people to do just enough to get by?
Encouragement and motivation go hand in hand, but they are not the same. Motivation is more general – cheerleading, if you will, getting people excited and primed to take on or continue a project.
Encouragement means pointing out potential and challenging the person to succeed at a specific goal or project. Encouragement means empowerment, according to Samir Nurmohamed, assistant professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“On the one hand, we know from research that people are much better at work when they feel empowered,” he said, “which consists of having meaning on the job, a sense of autonomy, a sense of confidence, and also an impact on what you do and the people you’re trying to help.
“Yet you don’t want to feel so autonomous that you have no direction. It’s one thing to feel autonomous in terms of your motivation, but it’s another to be autonomous and go in the wrong direction.”
Top managers understand these basic truths about employee encouragement and motivation:
Hall of Fame ballplayer Reggie Jackson put it in baseball terms, but I think it applies across the board: “I’ll tell you what makes a great manager: a great manager has a knack for making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how great you really are, you never settle for playing less than your very best.”
Mackay’s Moral: Encouragement gives you the courage to try.
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.
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