All of us know the value of encouragement: spurring people on, telling them they’re doing a good job and that we appreciate them. But do we know the value of ‘encouraging up’? By encouraging up, I mean encouraging someone above us in authority, rather than someone beside us or under us. For example, telling your pastor you think they’re doing a good job, or your Sunday School coordinator (if you’re a Sunday School leader) that you’re grateful for their hard work, is encouraging up.
Encouraging Up Is Harder
Encouraging up is much harder than encouraging ‘down’ or ‘across,’ and hence much rarer. I think this is for a couple of reasons.
The first is that we simply don’t think to do it. If we’re in leadership over someone, we realise that encouraging them is part of the job. That’s what leaders do: encourage those under them. Likewise, we all know how good it is for a peer to praise us, so we get that it’s also good for us to praise our peers. Encouraging down and across seems natural. But encouraging up doesn’t. Encouraging up is not how encouragement works, is it? Isn’t it always a top-down affair? It’s your job to encourage me if you’re above me, but not the other way around, right? That’s how we often think.
The second reason we don’t do it is because it feels presumptuous. So, our band leader does a great job of leading our team, and works hard at it. It occurs to us, one day after practice, to tell them how good a job we think they’re doing and how much we appreciate them. But then we second-guess ourselves. Who are we to tell our superiors they’re doing a good job? ‘Won’t they see that as us assuming we know as well as, or better than, them what it means to do their job? What if they take offence? And so we go home from practice having said nothing.
Encouraging Up Is Important
But encouraging up is probably even more important than encouraging down. Because far from being the confident, secure people we think our leaders are, they are actually just like us. They are just as full of doubt, just as full of worry, and just as full of fatigue as we are—they are just one rung further up the ladder. They almost certainly won’t take offence at us praising them. It is more likely that they will rather heave a sigh of relief and say, ‘Really? You thought I did a good job? Thanks so much for saying that! I really don’t know how I’m going at this, so it’s great to have that feedback.’
Further, paradoxically, the more senior a leader—and hence the more intimidating they are to praise—the more necessary it is to praise them. Why? Because they have no one or almost no one above them to encourage down to them. Or if they do have someone above them, they’re at a distance and don’t see them often. They also may not have many peers nearby, in the same role, who can encourage them sideways. Remember: we generally tend to only encourage down. So if there’s no one above them to praise them, who will do it? It’s up to you and everyone else underneath them.
Who Can You Encourage Up?
So: who can you encourage up? I can guarantee, coming out of a busy Term 1 and into a wintery Term 2, there will be loads of Sunday School coordinators, Bible study leaders, pastors, AV team heads, and many more leaders besides, who will be desperate for a bit of encouragement. And it is likely that many of them are not getting much encouragement—not because the rest of us are mean, but just because we don’t think to, or don’t feel like we can. So why not encourage them? I dare you.