In this last Leading Thoughts of the year, I want to give you an assignment that relates to both leadership and the holidays. Fear not. You’re going to love this.

This assignment is built upon the power of words. Leaders must understand the power and mystery of words. The best way to think of words—and words of encouragement in particular—is that they paint pictures. Since we human beings think in pictures, the pictures painted by the words we hear and believe define our entire understanding of the world. They also, of course, define how we see ourselves.

This is one of the great tools of leadership. A leader’s words can change everything.

Churchill used to tour factories during World War II. He’d walk up to a welder from Ulster and say loudly, “Thank God there are Ulstermen here. I know your courage. I know your skill. We are going to win this war now, I’m sure!”

Can you imagine what this meant to those welders and to those standing by? Such words from the prime minister could transform whole industries. He did it with words. He did it by igniting fires of inspiration and vision in the hearts of men and women.

Queen Elizabeth I once looked out over her troops and said, “My God, such manliness fills the ranks of England that her enemies may be unmanned by the mere sight of them.” When this was reported in the ranks, warriors felt the confidence of their queen and saw themselves differently. Victory was assured.

Now, I want you to do the same over the holidays. With your family or with friends and associates, work into the conversation impartations of vision and purpose that will ignite hearts. Make these words your Christmas gifts to the folks you are with.

Tell that nephew that you are proud of the discipline he is using to achieve good grades. Tell him that you know he’ll achieve great things if he stays on this track.

Tell that female friend that you are inspired by her care for her elderly mother and that she is teaching you what true character is. She is changing lives.

Tell that uncle who has retired from the army that he inspires you and that you are sure there are others in his life who feel the impact of his example. May he model valor for years to come.

You get the point. Without being weird or flowery, embed a noble image in the hearts of those you know and love, an image of their higher selves that they might not know otherwise.

My mother once told me how proud she was of me. She listed some accomplishments. I then told her that none of it would have been possible without her words of encouragement and vision living in my soul. I told her that her words through the years cycled in my soul every day. They were the fuel for anything I achieved in life.

My mother recalled that moment with tears long after. What about the people in your life? Gift them with words this holiday season. Paint noble pictures of who they are and are meant to be. It can take as little as half a sentence.

That’s it. Go Redskins! And Merry Christmas to all.

Stephen