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The Power of Encouragement

May 3, 2010

As my third career, I have set out to be a giver of clarity and encouragement. Encouragement releases positive energy, lifts spirits, and makes the challenging and “impossible” seem possible. A lot of the time a little bit of encouragement, delivered one-on- one and virtually invisible to the outside world, goes a long way.

I was given an exceptional image by a friend of mine, Ed Allen, a retired Navy Admiral, now working as an Executive Coach. He was an F-14 pilot, then a squadron leader, then the captain (CEO) of an aircraft carrier. He explained to me, “You are the catapult, not the carrier.”

When I wondered out loud what he meant with this startlingly unfamiliar metaphor, Ed asked whether I had seen the movie, Top Gun, which casts Tom Cruise as a hotshot F-14 carrier-based jet jockey. Virtually everyone I know has seen that Jerry Bruckheimer film (three times for me). Ed then said, “The key to naval aviation is the catapult.” If you have seen Top Gun, you will never forget the first scene where double-barreled jets are flung into the early morning dawn. Bring it to mind.

Here is the way Ed explained it to me, “A fully armed F-14 is 60,000 pounds of dead weight. It needs to achieve in excess of 150 knots airspeed within the approximately 200 feet of the carrier deck. It takes around 2.3 seconds, and if you are the pilot it’s the greatest show on earth. It wouldn’t happen without the catapult.” Then Ed said something that was a moment of true honest-to-goodness enlightenment for me, like a whack on the head. He said, “You are the catapult.” You are not the pilot, you are not the plane, you are not the carrier or its captain, and you will never see the final result – the target. You are the force of encouragement that is needed to get the plane airborne on its mission. That’s it!

Earlier I had been told, “At this stage of your life, it is your job to release and direct energy not to supply it.” Admiral Allen gave me a dramatic visual image that brings to mind everything Leadership Network does for large church leaders, Halftime does for high capacity midlife significance entrepreneurs, and what The Drucker Institute does for Social Sector leaders. It also clarifies what I intend to do personally, perhaps for the rest of my life: being the catapult, not the carrier.

You can do this too. According to the Bible, there is a set of specific and personal” good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. … Therefore – I beg you to be humble and gentle – to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (St. Paul in Ephesians 2 and 4 combined by me.)

My work in the Halftime Institute has convinced me that many, if not most serious believers, at some level, know what this calling is but that it is buried under years of busyness. It follows them after years of church attendance like an accusing shadow. The diversions are what Jesus called in explaining the Parable of the Sower “the cares and concerns of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” The incentives to keep piling up the score are formidable – money, recognition, the best table in a five-star restaurant. People want their lives to count, but they lack two things: clarity of calling which leads to courage and commitment. Then they need encouragement – someone to say, “You can do that. Let’s talk about it until it becomes clear.” Encouragement is a mix of:

Permission to be the person God designed you to be.

Acknowledgement – A pat on the back that says, “You did it! Great work!”

Applause – Recognition in small but effective doses from people who actually care about you and genuinely understand the good works you have accomplished.

Accountability – A critical element in converting Good Intentions to Results and Performance.

Indulge me with a short “pity party,” then a couple of examples.

As most of you know, I was struck out of the blue with a serious staph infection centered in my spine. The picture that emerged in three CT scans looked like termites eating away at my T4 and T5 vertebrae and the disc in between them. The pain was intense. I am pleased to report that the infection is stopped and T4 and T5 seem to be settling into a fused relationship. Very little pain. I am back to 90% effective.

However, as they say, “The cure was almost as bad as the disease.” Heavy duty pain killers and 84 days of powerful antibiotics. The result was three hospital imprisonments and serious confusion of mind. I was useless to anyone – no contribution – a complete dead weight burden for 2-1/2 months. I don’t like being dead weight. I am used to being a giver of encouragement not a receiver. I was in a haze which scared Linda a bunch.

Looking back, the biggest lesson I learned (and I am always looking for the silver lining) is how valuable receiving encouragement is.

Two examples from the past week: A spontaneous email from a 25-years-younger CEO of a parachurch group that is having world-changing impact in which I have invested:

Hey Bob,

You came to mind the other day and I was filled with gratitude at how God has used you to impact so many people’s lives including my own.  I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t responded to God’s call on your life.  Hope you are doing well.

Bless you my friend!


Earlier in the week, my friend, Bob Roberts, a world traveling pastor/encourager set up a meeting in my office with truly extraordinary players involved in huge churches from all over the globe (Jakarta, Viet Nam, Africa, Latin America). I have sponsored facilitation of meetings for them to form relationships and encourage one another. I sent him an email beforehand asking the purpose of the meeting and what was expected of me. Here was his response:

Yo Bob from Bob:

For u to get to see the fruit you helped grow on some other trees, hear their stories, and for u to see how the church is connecting globally and collaboratively.  U don’t need to do anything.  They “get” domains – so they are engaging the society which opens the doors for church planting & half-timers – many of these men are top business and political leaders in their churches.  Bob

So What about You?

  1. Who could you encourage with a one-page handwritten note or a “you came to mind” email?
  2. Who has been “there for you” in your moments of success (or times of despair)? What might a note mean to them?
  3. Who are you betting on in order to “release or direct energy” towards future outcomes consistent with your (even vague) sense of calling? How are you equipped to be “the catapult not the carrier?”


Admiral Ed Allen is a proud graduate of our Halftime Institute. He is a highly capable executive/corporate coach. He can be reached at or cell 817.233.7464.


Always welcome. Tell me some “Release and Direct” stories.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 10, 2010 2:03 PM

    Just this last week I was telling a friend that I used to have a lot of mentors, but now that I’m older it is getting harder and harder to find mentors older than myself. His comment? He said, “Gary you are the mentor for others now.” He’s right, you know. If you live long enough, learn enough, and care enough, you eventually become the mentor. Or, as Bob reminds, we become the catapult.

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