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My wife and I enjoy watching birds. As bird watchers, we look forward to the pleasure of visiting our favorite store for feeders, bird identification guides and of course, bird seed.

One day I went to the store and I saw a new display of bird photographs on the wall. I could tell these images were the work of a photographer who took the time to carefully craft each image. I thought to myself, this photographer knows how to take marvelous pictures! His work demonstrates amazing artistic ability! He found the appropriate setting, the perfect camera angle to display the distinctive features of each bird, and he balanced the lighting and contrast levels to achieve perfect proportion.

When I said to the lady working in the store, “Someone knows how to take beautiful pictures of birds,” her reply disappointed me. She said, “It’s a local guy. He has a good camera—he paid a lot of money for it.”

I wonder if she really thinks great pictures come from average photographers with expensive cameras? Would this photographer consider it a complement if she said to him, “You are fortunate to have an expensive camera so you can get these great pictures?”

Her appraisal of the situation did not surprise me. People recognize the tools instead of the artist all the time, but it still disappoints me when it happens. I am dismayed by the serious lack of understanding of how to offer effective encouragement. If we recognize the tools, instead of the craftsman, artist, or performer, we waste opportunities to encourage excellence.

For encouragement to produce the desired result, the encourager must be specific and clearly communicate exactly what has been done that deserves the praise. If the person you praise does not know what is being recognized, how does she know what she did that impressed you? How does she know what to continue doing?

We need to take advantage of every occasion to encourage excellence wherever we find it. This is why in my practice of Creative Followership, one of my guiding principles of encouragement is …

Recognize the Craftsman, Not His Tools.

How about you? Have you witnessed similar situations? Will you join me in effectively encouraging excellence wherever you see it?

Jimmy Collins