A Follower’s Rewarding Words

As we see the close of 2019 on the horizon, we’re in a season of gratitude. Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving just over two weeks ago, and the USA will gorge itself on turkey and pumpkin pie at the end of this month. For me, the Advent/Christmas season continues that same thread of appreciation for what we’ve been given, for gifts received, for acts of kindness and generosity.

As a leader, I find myself thankful for the role my followers fill in gifting me with encouragement and perspective.

I note in Embracing Followership that all followers have opportunities for contribution such as providing a network of support, guiding from behind, and developing our leaders (see Chapter 6).

Practically, one of the avenues for those contributions is our ability to reward our leaders. In the context of both our influence and our submission, followers have a powerful conduit to fuel their leader’s excellence.

EmbracingFollowership_CoverTexture“We should maintain an awareness of the valuable opportunity we have to reward our leader through affirmation and encouragement…. We must offer these rewards for the encouragement and well-being of our leader, and not for the purpose of manipulating the environment to our present or future advantage…. For reward to be a facet of relationship rather than a transaction, it must be a gift, not an investment; it must be given away free and clear, not as a loan to be paid back with interest” (p.159, from Chap 17: “Influence, Submission, and Reward”).

The five team leaders that I oversee are kind and gracious, and I have numerous examples of them offering to me these rewarding statements of affirmation. I keep an email folder for such notes that are sent to me. I don’t re-read these in order to stroke my ego, but they are there to en-courage: to fill me up with the morale, fortitude, and bravery to continue on despite struggle, doubt, or frustration in my role.

But three particular comments spoken to me in person come readily to mind.

“I trust you.” (which I’ve previously shared with you in this post)

“I tell you because I know you will listen.” (spoken by someone in the midst of organizational frustration and a sense of being abandoned by the higher-ups)

We are what you are doing.” (the answer offered to my comment about being unsure what I am doing/contributing)

You may not be able to appreciate the profound impact that these statements had on me, but I hope that you (as a leader or colleague) have experienced your own rewarding sentiments, given to encourage you.

And as a fellow follower, perhaps you can glimpse the importance of us taking a relatively simple step of speaking brief, but authentic, words into the lives of our leaders.

At a large conference a few years ago, I made this challenge: what if each participant intentionally encouraged two other attendees during the course of this week?

Now certainly not everybody took up the challenge, but some did, and those on the receiving end of their words came away with something from that event that others missed out on. They had something unique to accompany their SWAG bag as part of the luggage on the journey home.

I’ll be seeing my subordinates next week at our annual meeting (I serve in a distance leadership role). On one hand, I might expect to receive several new of these ‘rewards’ (contrast that with ‘awards’). On the other hand, I hope that I don’t miss the opportunity to offer my own encouraging influence in speaking words of affirmation to them while we’re face-to-face.

Meeting with my own boss in person a few weeks ago (he’s also a distance leader), I’m fairly certain that I did miss a ‘rewarding’ opportunity. Let that be a lesson to me.

And a motivator for you: use your reward power intentionally and authentically, and help to create an environment of thanksgiving and encouragement where everybody can continue to make their best contributions.


For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:


Followership Guide coverEmbracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and  A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —

along with our variety of free downloadable resources and the index of other posts on this site.

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