There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.
- Katharine Hathaway
A story is told of Edward Steichen who became one of the world’s most renowned photographers. He almost gave up on the day he shot his first pictures. At 16, young Steichen bought a camera and took 50 photographs. Only one turned out – a portrait of his youngest sister at the piano.
Edward’s father thought that was a poor showing. But his mother insisted that the photograph of his sister was so beautiful that it more than compensated for 49 failures. Her encouragement convinced him to stick with his new hobby. He stayed with it for the rest of his life, but it had been a close call. What tipped the scales? The vision to spot excellence in the midst of a lot of failure.
Steichen’s renowned career as a photographer, painter, and curator, was birthed by the power of words spoken to him at an early age by a thoughtful mother who believed in his abilities. Her example is testament to the power of encouragement and the impact of what I call 1:50 leadership principles.
The 1:50 ratio is a leadership principle which believes that the power of encouragement is meant to elevate the morale, confidence, and productivity of your organization. Johann von Goethe said, “Instruction does much, but encouragement does everything.” While instruction is a blueprint, encouragement is the fuel that moves your organization forward. So, what are the 1:50 ratio principles that leaders possess?
The 1:50 leader believes that your best days are ahead of you. It might have been easy for young Steichen’s mother to join the chorus of the father who believed the exercise of taking pictures was futile. When the numbers are against you and what you have done is considered as failure by some, along comes a 1:50 leader who takes a second look.
“Originality,” as Thomas Higginson said, “is simply a fresh pair of eyes.” The difference between 49 bad pictures and one that can launch a prolific career is found in the eyes of the encourager. The difference maker is one leader who in her heart believes the best and dares to speak it.
The 1:50 leader believes that your failures are not final. Steichen’s mother was convinced that the picture was so good that it more than compensated for the 49 failures. How do you see your team? Do you believe that your organization, despite the economy, and all other obstacles it faces is capable of success?
A 1:50 leader knows that failure can be demoralizing. He understands that the difference between a team member throwing in the towel in despair and success is words of encouragement that motivates him to take one more picture. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.” A 1:50 leader is there to build up and to see others reach their full potential.
The 1:50 leader believes that you can make a difference. The critical moment comes when faced with the decision that only you can make. Edward’s father was of the opinion that the hobby was not worth pursuing; his mother believed it was. All some people need as they stand in the valley of decision is one word of encouragement that propels them to their destiny.
A 1:50 leader defies all odds and dares to believe in his team. He speaks words of encouragement with conviction in such a way that failure is not an option. Yes, the 1:50 leader can make a difference.
When faced with what may seem to be insurmountable obstacles before you, consider the words of Thomas Edison who said, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Moving forward begins with a belief in your heart that the steps before you are not a trap but a blessing, and that your words will encourage others to take the journey with you.
© 2010 Doug Dickerson