Managers and executives often talk about the benefits of encouragement. In interviews, they often say how encouragement is an important part of their management mantra and many trot out the old saw about “catch someone doing something right.” In the real world, I must say that I have seen far too little of it. A few people fresh from a seminar or sensitivity training session would start praising staffers for insignificant things but that would wear off soon and it was back to business as usual.
Yet managers who do encourage staffers generally do get good results. Sometimes, even great ones.
I am going to tell a story from my childhood that up to now I have never revealed to anyone. It makes my point better than anything I have ever experienced. Here goes:
In the summer of 1957, I celebrated my seventh birthday. Relatives dropped off a few dollars, my aunt in Houston sent me three dollars, and I received a couple of gifts from my parents. It was a really nice day. The next morning, I asked my father if he would drive me to the bank in the village so I could deposit my birthday cash haul. He smiled and a few minutes later we were approaching a teller’s window at the bank. I was so tiny that she could not see me. My dad boosted me up and I handed her my passbook and the $9 I wanted to deposit. She took the deposit but did not seem happy. A minute later she returned with my bankbook having the new entry. She said to both of us, “A small deposit like that. It does not seem worth the effort.” My father got very still. He gave her a withering glance that was far more frightening than any he ever gave me. After a few seconds, he said evenly, “The little boy has good instincts. You should encourage him to bank here.” Visibly flustered, the mean old biddy said, “Of course. Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Cole?” Fishing a dollar bill out of his pocket, my father said, “Yes, do you have any silver dollars lying around?” A minute later she returned and handed him a 1924 Peace dollar and he gave her a one dollar bill for it (sic).
In the car, my dad said, “You seem to understand saving better than other seven year olds.” He handed me the silver dollar. “Donny, keep this.” My eyes must have gotten huge. I remember asking him if it were real money. He said yes and told me how as a junior in college he had a summer job working a cement mixer at a construction site. The first week he worked some overtime in the hot Iowa sun and received a pay envelope on Saturday afternoon. It contained two $10 gold pieces, a $5 gold piece and three Peace dollars which he said everyone called cartwheels. A few minutes later I was surely the only seven year old in Rhode Island who knew the difference between fiat money and specie (As an aside, the following spring, my father won the NCAA wrestling championship in his weight class. He had paid his room, board and tuition with his earnings from the cement mixer job. It boggles my mind to think what a soon to be NCAA champion would be given on a campus today!).
When we arrived at home, I did not show my siblings or my Mom my new cartwheel. I made a beeline to the toy safe that my parents had given me for my birthday. It did not look like much but it was made of steel and had a real lock and only I knew the combination (still do). I took the passbook and the Peace dollar and placed them in the safe next to my other prized possessions--my Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Yogi Berra baseball cards and my Bob Cousy and Bill Russell basketball cards.
A few years ago I sold the cards at an auction for a staggering profit. The silver dollar? I still have it. Every 12-18 months, when visiting a safe deposit box, I hold it in my hand for a few moments. More than once, I am not ashamed to admit, my eyes have filled up with tears when I stare at it. I am convinced that my father’s standing up for me to the dismissive teller and his encouraging me to save, changed my life. He set me on a path toward being a private investor that I never veered from for an instant.
So my friends, there has to be someone you know, work with or for, or love who needs some encouragement. Give it freely. It costs you nothing and it just may change someone’s life or career.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org