When Encouragement is Counterproductive

This article was originally and written and published on worshipleader.com and the original can be viewed here

Have you ever intended something for good, but received negative results? Maybe you sat down to eat a delicious meal, but you ate too much. Maybe you decided to go for a run, but you twisted your ankle. Maybe you made a phone call to an old friend and it brought up some unresolved issues.

Across my time leading bands and musicians in the church, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon which sometimes inadvertently creates negative results from positive intentions.

Encouragement.

It sounds backwards doesn’t it? Here’s the deal, encouragement is great and is probably a significant part of your development and growth as a leader. In fact, were it not for those people who gave me encouragement at the right times in my life, I may not have had the courage to step into the fearful world of platform leadership. It’s scary up there and you need positive affirmation to know that you are qualified to lead.

Churches should be the most encouraging place on earth and teams everywhere need more encouragement. In fact, I’m trying to do a better job of encouraging people. I want to never walk past an opportunity to encourage another person who needs it. But not all words of encouragement are created equal, are they?

We’ve all been there… we’ve walked off the stage after a bad set with a desire to crawl under a rock and we run across that person who greets us with the most flashy words of praise we’ve heard in months. While that encouragement may be a refreshing reminder that it probably wasn’t as bad as we thought, we also need to take those words with a grain of salt, don’t we?

God’s grace is sufficient for you and me. It’s just as sufficient in our platform leadership as it is any day of the week. But sometimes it may be appropriate for us to improve. Sometimes we genuinely didn’t prepare enough. Sometimes we could have worked harder. Work ethic doesn’t only apply to your job; it also applies to your ministry. If we are aren’t careful, we could create a pattern of tuning out the words of correction and improvement and only listening to the words of praise.

People who work in the service industry know that they need both the regular pay and the tip. The tip is great! Sometimes it’s a beautiful contribution to the bank account and sometimes it barely makes a difference, but either way it comes from someone who is basing their opinion of your worth off of a momentary encounter. It’s not equal to the investment that your boss makes. They see you everyday and they know a lot more about your worth than those who only pass by you for a moment. If your boss raises your pay it means a lot more than the customer who leaves a good tip.

Some encouragement is the heavy and valuable salary that makes a substantial investment in our growth, but other encouragement is the change left on the table to signify a job well done, from someone who measures you based upon a few minutes of observation. Their intentions are still pure, but they don’t know if we’ve done our best or phoned it in.

Encouragement should hold weight in your development as a leader, but the more you receive the more it can cause you to stray away from healthy improvement. The loudest voice you hear may not be the most important voice.

We are great at surrounding ourselves with people who will build us up. We all know those people who will have something good to say to us. They will take our side and they will make up for the lack of encouragement we feel, even if a lack of encouragement is what we need to feel. And the truth is, they are doing their job. You’ve probably even been that source of encouragement for someone else. Because, let’s be honest, no amount encouragement is going to cause someone to quit what they are doing, but an absence of encouragement may very well cause someone to throw in the towel right when they need to get back in the ring and keep fighting.

When coaching other worship leaders and musicians, I would never ask them to mute out the encouragement, but I would ask them to listen to the right people. Listen to those people who can speak the truth in love.

There is so much value in the words of the people who care more about your long-term growth than your short-term satisfaction. Dissect their words, listen for their heart, apply their advice. And if you listen closely, you’ll find that they’ve made an investment in your leadership account.

Here are four next steps:

  1. Find someone who is further along in their journey of leadership than you. Ask them for unfiltered advice.
  2. Consider getting lessons in your area of music. I know plenty of professional musicians who seek instruction from people better than them. Never stop learning!
  3. Keep an encouragement and improvement journal. Refer back to it across your journey as a leader and watch the way that your leadership improves over time.
  4. Never stop listening to the encouragement of others and never walk past an opportunity to encourage someone else.

How has valuable encouragement helped you to take a next step in your leadership? Has encouragement ever been a hurdle to your musical growth?

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