Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who Inspires You?

Having someone in your business life who inspires you to succeed and achieve your goals seems to be the exception than the rule these days. I still remember the managers I had early in my career who were truly inspirational and in no small way helped me create the solid foundation on which I was able to build my career.
Talking to thousands of employees over the last 40 years there’s no doubt about how much difference an inspirational leaders makes – not just to the employees level of commitment and motivation – but the impact these leaders have on improving and optimising organisational performance, as they help create a culture that wants to ‘over achieve’ in areas that are synergistic to the employee and the organisation – creating a win-win for everyone involved.
So it seems sad that in the early years of the 21st century, today’s leaders seem to lack the basic skills needed to inspire employees and further seem to lack the desire to inspire them in the first place. Many leaders seem to look inwardly rather than outwardly – putting themselves and their career path and ‘status’ before anything else – possibly fearing that they might lose control of their ‘own’ future and that others may excel and be noticed more than them.
Yet the inspirational leaders I worked with had both – successful careers and created successful careers for those around them. Rather than being fearful of others excelling, they embraced it and were recognised throughout the organisation for their success in taking their department/organisations to new levels of excellence. These ‘new’ levels of excellence and the inspirational leadership style created yet further incremental increases in performance that could be tracked to the bottom line.
In 2013, after interviewing over 100 HR professionals in the US, research by Keas, a company that focuses on employee health and wellness, found on one question - “in your experience, what are the top three Human Resources mistakes that every CEO makes?” - that the top-scoring three responses were:
64% – leaders don’t recognize what truly motivates employees
41% – leaders fail to lead by example
32% – leaders don’t make company culture a priority
Where all three of these actions (or non-actions) send a loud, clear message to employees: you are not that important to me, (Anderson, 2013).
Just the fact that 64% of leaders don’t even recognize what truly motivates employee’s highlights today’s problems around inspirational leadership. It’s a fundamental requirement of a leader to know their people and especially what motivates them. These are basic conversations that usually take place at the ‘interview’ stage and then on a regular basis each and every year after that.
This is then backed up by the next two traits – ‘failing to lead by example’ and ‘not making company culture a priority’. It seems that many leaders today see themselves ‘above’ those that work for them and hence don’t see a need to lead by example. They are the boss, they have the power – “you simple exist to do my bidding”. In fact it wasn’t that long ago I heard a leader define their staff as “people whose job it is to make me look good.”
Leadership seems to be going backwards – partly because the inspirational role models that exist out there in the global economy don’t even see the light of day. Where the media is obsessed with reporting ‘negative’ behaviours these days and seem to fail to grasp the need to show future generations ‘positive’ behaviours in the work place so they can see the benefits early in their lives and might even be positively rather than negatively influenced.
Whether we want to openly admit it or not – we all want to be led by an inspirational leader – as if nothing else they make our jobs so much more enjoyable and give the opportunities for us to challenge ourselves, if we want to.
In 2013 IBM asked 1,700 CEOs in 64 countries, “what do top executives want from their leaders?” The three leadership traits that most mattered were; (1) the ability to focus intensely on customer needs, (3) the ability to collaborate with colleagues and (3) the ability to inspire. (Zenger and Folkman, 2013).
Zenger and Folkman’s research found that “some of what (inspirational) leaders did was specific and tangible. For example, they set stretch goals with their team. They spent time developing their subordinates. They engaged in highly collaborative behavior. They encouraged those about them to be more innovative.”
Other things Zenger and Folkman identified were somewhat less specific and less tangible, yet are probably the real traits that make them stand out of other wannabe inspiring leaders; where “these inspirational leaders were more adept at making emotional connections with their subordinates, for instance. They were better at establishing a clear vision. They were more effective in their communication and willing to spend more time communicating. They were ardent champions of change. They were perceived as effective role models within the organization.”
What I’ve found during the course of my career is that inspirational leaders embrace the following key behaviours and traits;
1) They ensure that making time for meeting with their employees, one-on-one, on a regular basis is their number one priority;
2) They are visionaries and have the ability to communicate these visions in a transparent and compelling narrative, that inspires their employees to want to be part of the journey;
3) They are ‘big picture’ focused and can look beyond their own department or organisation; and see short and long-term opportunities;
4) There have experienced life to the full (both business and personal); and have usually experienced both significant ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ but learnt real life lessons from both;
5) They are principled role models; and never ask people to do things they would never do themselves;
6) They are passionate – not just for the future of their organisation – but passionate about all their employees too, knowing that you can’t have one without the other; and finally
7) They are both patient and excellent listeners.
It’s up to today’s executive boards to embrace inspirational leadership at the top and then ensure these basic behaviours role down the leadership pipeline and become an integral part of the organisations culture.
It’s not complicated or rocket science – we just need to bring inspiration back to the work place. The benefits will gleaned by all stakeholders.
Anderson, E. (2013). 3 Simple, Powerful Things Leaders Can Do To Inspire People To Do Great Things. Forbes On-Line, August 29.
Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. (2013). What Inspiring Leaders Do. Harvard Business Review On-Line, June 20.