I was asked to write this blog by one of the recipients of a random note of encouragement. So I am, at her request. Thanks, A., for encouraging me to share with others simple things that can be done to help other people be awesome.
In October 2015 I took one of the bigger leaps in my consulting life, pulling off a huge success in the OrgCode Leadership Academy in Ending Homelessness. I could no longer justify the “what if” excuses of not trying to pull it off. With the help and encouragement of people like Zach and Amanda it not only happened, it worked. 200 people showed up. At the end of the final session on the last day, there were loads of people lined up to take photos, share a high five or hug, or offer me some words of gratitude. It was awesome. But the best part personally was an offhand comment – which could have been a joke – where one of the attendees asked me what I was going to do to be a better leader in the coming year and reach beyond just those that came to the Academy. Damn it – it was just the challenge I did not want but could not ignore.
After considerable discernment, I wrote down a list of ideas. One of the ideas that made it to the top of the pile was to send a random note of encouragement to someone I have met along the way on the journey towards ending homelessness. I committed that at least once a week – more when I could – I would write a sincere missive of encouragement to someone I know that is working hard at leading a change in how we respond to homelessness.
And it is one of the best things I have ever done.
This work is extraordinarily hard. And it should be. Great social change has never come about without great effort. I also believe it is a privilege that we get to engage with other people’s lives during a time of need and help create systems of support and change to help resolve their homelessness.
I also know that it can be lonely to be a change leader. You can also find yourself the target of people’s critiques – the lightening rod of discontent for those you are working to help change. While I know that hatred is a problem for the hater, and that in some instances being hated is proof that you are doing the right and just thing, I also know it sucks to not have others respect, support and offer gratitude. I know some amazing leaders who are rarely thanked. It is also rare to find another leader who, from a place of empathy, can truly understand where you are coming from and how you feel.
A random note of encouragement only works if it is sincere. It has to be catered to the person you are sending it to. It has to come out of the blue. It must provide some uplifting commentary to motivate the person to keep on keeping on. Go ahead and try it this week. Pick one person in your community or even your own organization and out of the blue thank them for what they do and encourage them to keep that up.
Our society has almost perfected the art of tearing each other down. I think it is about time we figure out how to lift each other up. I think we need more compassion and less apathy. I think we need more community and less isolation. I think we need to be more thankful and less passive. I think we need to assert that people are giving it their all to make it happen. I want us to spend more time saluting the effort of making change happen and doing the work that is often thankless and not always understood. If I truly respect someone and what they are doing, I need them to know they are respected and their efforts are seen. Try it. A random note of encouragement is an intentional act of kindness.
By the way, feel free to come to the Leadership Academy and deliver me a challenge in my own leadership growth over the next year.