I is for Helping People To Feel Important

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Sometimes in life you meet people who show that you and your contribution is important. They do not say, however, that you are more important than others.

Such people create an encouraging environment. They then give people the opportunity: a) To do their best; b) To encourage others to do their best.

Good leaders do this all the time. When communicating the organisation’s strategy, for example, they start by giving people the big picture. Why? They realise that people need context.

They explain the team’s purpose, the principles it aims to follow and the positive rewards. People can then see how their contributions help to achieve the picture of success

Good leaders follow a similar pattern when meeting with people individually. They prepare for the meeting, outline the topics to explore and ask the person if they want to add to the agenda.

Such leaders show the person they are important. They give them their full attention and listen carefully. They then work together with the person to ensure the meeting is successful.

As the famous Maya Angelou quote says:

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Poor leaders convey the impression that they themselves are important. They can seem hurried and distracted, perhaps continually looking at their phone.

Such leaders forget it is actually their people who will perform the work that will enable them look good as leaders.

Looking back at your own life, who have been the people who have helped you to feel important? They may have been a parent, teacher, coach, manager or other person who made you feel the centre of their world. What did they do right to encourage you?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a person – or a group of people – who helped you to feel important.

Describe the specific things they did to help you to feel important.

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Good encouragers help others to feel important. They are warm and make a person feel welcome.

They aim to connect with the person and their agenda. When appropriate, they pass on wisdom that enables the person to reach their goals.

Encouragers are also good at giving a person specific feedback on what they do well. Looking back, I recall a few minutes in secondary school when one of the teachers, Miss Peel, sat beside me and said the following.

“I saw you giving everything when running in a race on sports day, even though you had an illness at the time. Keep showing that fighting spirit and you can go a long way in life.”

My school performances were not good. I was one of many children who did not pass the 11+ Exam in the UK. Little was expected of me but, like many other people, this actually freed me to follow my own path.

I loved learning and was an avid reader. Miss Peel’s words encouraged me to keep exploring and find the path I wanted to go on in life.

George Lyward was another person I met who focused on when people came alive. He was charismatic educationalist who lived between 1894 and 1973.

He was best known for achieving outstanding results at Finchden Manor, a therapeutic community for disturbed boys. I was fortunate to spend some time learning from him when I was running therapeutic communities.


Bus loads of social workers travelled to Finchden, which was located near Tenterden in Kent, to seek the secret of his success. Walking around the ramshackle huts, they saw boys playing guitars, kicking footballs, tending gardens and, in some cases, engaged in study.

Finally the visitors crammed into the large hall and bombarded George with questions.

“What therapy do you believe in,” they asked.

“What is the staff’s role? They seem to do little except watch the boys.”

“You are right, they watch the boys,” said George.

“Watching is one of the hardest things to do in life. Our staff watch the boys painting, mending cars, playing music, helping each other or whatever.

“They look for when the boy ‘comes alive’. They then nurture the boy’s talent and help them to shape their future life.”

George’s approach had a profound impact on many young people’s lives. You can find out more about his work at:


The language George used – and the way he connected with people – was different. He had a great ability to help each person to feel important.

This was exemplified by a theatrical sketch presented by some boys at a public performance. One boy appeared dressed as George Lyward. Another as a prospective new boy arriving at Finchden.

The dialogue went:

GL: And what can we do for you, my boy?

Boy: Please … I want to come to Finchden.

GL: And what is the matter with you, my boy?

Boy: I’ve got schizophrenia. (Bursts into tears.)

GL: There, there, my boy. (Pats Boy vaguely on head.) You shall come to us.

Boy: Oh, thank you, sir! What shall I bring?

GL: Bring? Bring nothing.

Boy: Nothing, sir?

GL: Well – ah – my boy – bring a toothbrush. And – ah – if you have one, bring a dream.

Looking at your own life and work, how can you continue to help people to feel important?

At the same time, it will be vital to underline that they need to help others feel valued. Every human being has a positive spirit that can be recognised and encouraged.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the person – or group of people – that you want to help to feel important.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best to help them to feel important.

Describe the specific benefits of enabling them to feel important.

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