Inspiring Others

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

Here is a test to find out whether your mission in life is complete. If you’re alive, it isn’t.   Richard Bach

One of the nine core competencies of leaders is inspiring others. Recently I was invited to a brainstorming event for a men’s group I attend. Since the men involved in this group represent so many divergent interests and backgrounds, it was decided that we should gather to hear from the men to discuss how to plan a diversity of events to better connect with the various personalities, interests and work schedules. Unfortunately, the event was advertised to start promptly at 7:45 pm (to allow for commuting) and was to quickly begin with the open forum approach to gathering the men’s ideas. One point of concern has been that the events started late; wasted time with the lack of intentionality and wandered through a lackluster agenda. Most of the men want to participate but lack patience with the aimless meetings. This forum was promoted to end by 8:30 pm to allow men to come, brainstorm and be on their way home by 8:30. As I arrived, I noticed the meeting leader was not there and many men were sitting around glancing at their watches. The meeting finally started about 10 minutes late with the leader speaking unenthusiastically about the men’s group lacking enthusiasm! After about 15 minutes of his pessimistic wandering, men began to get up and tiptoe out of this brainstorming event. It was uninspiring and deflating. This type of behavior and leadership is NOT what this article is about.

American business people are uninspired. Are you surprised? Don’t be. According to a recent Maritz Research poll the fact is that only ten percent of the work force look forward to going to work; and most point to a lack of leadership as the reason for this. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. All business leaders have the power to inspire, motivate, and positively influence the people in their professional lives,” according to a recent story in Business Week Online.

Inspiring others should be an aspiration of leaders. We do not live in a vacuum or lead in a vacuum, so the way we use our influence is important. Motivation is a closely related action that is usually a result of good leadership skills and influence. Inspiration is an interesting concept. To inspire means to stimulate someone to do something, or to provoke a particular feeling. It can also mean to cause some form of creative activity. My favorite meaning to the word inspire is to breathe in. In essence, when we inspire others we are breathing into them the influence and factors that will cause them to become a better form of who they presently are. The opposite of inspire is expire. It may be a stretch, but when we use our influence in destructive ways, even unintentionally, it may literally “kill” someone’s motivation and creativity and desire to become better. That’s what I saw and experienced at the aforementioned men’s meeting. We were supposed to come and share each other’s enthusiasm. Instead, the leader caused the event to fizzle out and many men have not come back.

When working around great leaders I have found that they have a way of inspiring others through their leadership behaviors, management tasks and compelling communication. Communications coach and author Carmine Gallo, in his new book, Fire Them Up!, reveals basic skills common to the leaders who best know how to inspire their employees, colleagues, customers, and investors. The book is a great study of techniques needed to lead organizations and inspire teams to perform at a higher level. After studying their communication “secrets”, Gallo came up with seven skills that he believes can easily be adopted to your own professional communications. I give him credit for these. They are great skills to know and employ. After listing each of these I have added my own observations.

1. Demonstrate enthusiasm constantly
Practicing enthusiasm and optimism in the workplace can help leaders inspire those around them. How leaders speak and craft their phrases can help to inspire and motivate their teams. It may be time to sit down and take a good look at yourself.  How do you think you sound to your employees or colleagues? Are you coming to work inspired? Are you passionate about your message and your mission?  Inspiration is “breathing into others who you are”.  Ask a close friend or colleague to be honest with you about your body language, communication skills, and clarity when casting vision.

One of our clients had planned a training day at which certain company awards would be given.  During the lunch hour, after I had spent the morning training, I observed the owner and founder coming into the large room where his employees had been trained. It was as though a rock star had entered the room!  The awards seemed secondary compared to his interaction with his employees.  His warm handshake and the friendly and casual nature he employed when talking with these people reflected sincere joy.  His way of interacting with his employees seemed magical! Honest sincerity and enthusiasm about the business was of immeasurable value; the awards were just “sprinkles on the cupcake” for these employees.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

2. Articulate a compelling course of action
Inspiring leaders work hard at developing and delivering a concise, consistent, and compelling vision. A goal such as doubling the product sales by the next year is not inspiring.  A long, elaborate mission statement serves no purpose tucked away and forgotten in a desk somewhere.

A good vision statement is short, usually fifteen or fewer words. It serves everyone best when it is a vivid description of what the world will look like if your product or service succeeds.

One of my embarrassing moments actually pertains to Carmine Gallo’s wonderful techniques listed here. I traveled to a city to meet a team for the first time and help them to clarify their action plans to better support their vision statement. I had done some research on their website.  When I arrived from the airport and entered the conference center, I noticed some business card-sized vision statements at the information booth that were apparently available for guests of the organization. I picked one up and put it in my pocket as I entered the elevator to their training room. Being a professional, I memorized their vision statement and core goals while riding the elevator. After about two hours of questioning them and recording their answers on a flipchart, one young professional held up his hand. I called on him. He said I seemed to be facilitating them toward some visionary goals that were no longer being targeted by their organization. I then pulled out the business card with the organization’s goals and the vision statement and read it to the team. The team leader, an executive in that company for twenty plus years said that they were no longer heading in that direction. I politely asked why the vision and goals were still on the business cards for distribution to guests. They were embarrassed; I was embarrassed. We laughed at how absurd this situation really was.

The experience helped the team to clarify their purpose, make their vision and goals current and, of course, remove the cards from the guest information booth. Leaders should be able to articulate and manage toward a compelling and current vision.

3. Sell the benefit
Hold out the vision before your team members in a way that allows them to see themselves in the vision. Inspiration is triggered when others sense they are not only a part of the dream but are integral parts of it. People simply like to see themselves in the “portrait” of the company’s successes! When you inspire others to follow, remember to qualify, quantify and clarify the benefits they receive by not only complying with the vision but also committing to it. Compliance is not commitment; and team members want something they can commit to. An inspired team, in an empowered culture, will be amazed at the ease in which they find themselves sharing their own ideas. The results to follow will be a practical tool in achieving inspiration. The benefits of people feeling a part of the successes will far outweigh any other challenges within the team systems. Healthy divergence and a culture that allows for differences will promote hard work and commitment. People are, most times, hoping that their contribution has some significance. They are asking, “What’s in it for me?”

There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.       Alexander Woollcott

4. Tell more stories
We all love stories. Many times after a full day of training someone in the class will say something about a story or illustration I told. It is never about how important the teaching was or the great concepts. Sometimes they will refer to a video clip. Stories inspire and people like to see themselves in a story. They relate to the realness of it. People learn best when they can see themselves “alive in the concept”. If you want to inspire, tell your stories and then find even greater stories and illustrations that can help you inspire your team. Of course, real experiences that pertain to certain teachable moments connect best.

This may be an urban myth, but it’s good anyway. The U.S. standard railroad gauge – that’s the distance between rails – is 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches. Why such an odd number? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and American railroads were built by British expatriates – that is, people who used to live in Britain. Well, why did the English use that particular gauge? The people who built the pre-railroad tramways used that gauge. They, in turn, were locked into that gauge because the people who built tramways used the same standards and tools they had used for building wagons, which were on a gauge of 4 ft, 8-1/2 inches. Why were wagons built to that scale? With any other size, the wheels did not match the old wheel ruts on the roads. So who built these old rutted roads? The first long distance highways in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since. Roman war chariots first made the ruts. Four feet, 8-1/2 inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the two rear ends of warhorses. Maybe “that’s the way it’s always been” isn’t the good reason some people believe it is. Leaders find a better way. Actually, great leaders find the best way.

Now, that’s a great story!

5. Invite participation
Inspirational leaders do not talk all of the time. They listen and encourage others to share openly their ideas. Actually, this is an important learned skill. There is a delicate balance between telling others how you see the progress towards team goals and listening to them and facilitating the sharing of their ideas. Inspiring leaders turn their meetings into open and honest discussions, rather than lectures or declaratory episodes. If your team has quiet and creative participants, actively seek their ideas within group settings. Act as a traffic cop, if necessary, to keep the outspoken participants in check so everyone can participate. It is inspiring to team members when they sense that they can openly share their ideas and contribute within group meetings.

Actually, a leader needs the ability not only to make good decisions, but also to lead others to make good decisions. Charles Moore, after four years of research at the United Parcel Service reached the following conclusions:

  1. Good decisions take a lot of time.
  2. Good decisions combine the efforts of a number of people.
  3. Good decisions give individuals the freedom to dissent.
  4. Good decisions are reached without any pressure from the top to reach an artificial consensus.
  5. Good decisions are based on the participation of those responsible for implementing them.

6. Reinforce an optimistic outlook
News sometimes has to be bad, but it does not usually inspire in the same way as the positive report of a well-done project. Some management authors suggest that creating urgency within your team can inspire better deliverables. However, culturally, in my opinion and experience, positive reinforcement and good feedback systems create better outcomes. Reinforcing the good aspects of your organization may help to alleviate certain stress behaviors such as apprehension, conflict avoidance and lack of self-confidence. Teams that enjoy a realistic evaluation process of team metrics will perform better and better adjust to hit the marks of the organization. Teams that are constantly told bad news and therefore work within a pessimistic culture may have a tendency to give up or perform at a lower level because hard work seems to never get positive feedback. Although this is not a scientific article, my experiences in working with a variety of organizations bear this out.

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.                               Jack London

7. Encourage potential
Potential is a powerful word. It means that what is possible but as yet not actual could happen. Team members who are allowed to express their potential leverage the overall potential of the organization. Some of the synonyms of potential like probable, likely and prospective portray a work environment that is positive, expectant and promising. Leaders who encourage potential in their team members are helping to create a positive work environment. A positive cultural change is then possible by inspiring team members to express and meet their individual potentials.

Continuous learning opportunities, executive coaching and small group interactions regarding ongoing work will promote higher achievement in the team. Creating an environment in which the team members are expressing their potential and continuously learning and improving can only affect the culture and deliverables for the better.

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.                                                                                       St. Augustine

Many times as Trove works within an organization this idea of potential is openly discussed. As we coach and then work within a small group that is interfacing with other teams, people share that they feel either oppressed or squelched in their skills and talents. Sometimes team members sense that their potential is not being met because of the culture or a specific supervisor who apparently does not really care. Encouraging potential is a great tool for becoming a significant leader and an effective manager. Remember that to be able to encourage others you must be striving to meet your own potential. Maybe a coach is in your future.

The Victor
C.W. Longenecker
If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win but think you can’t,
it’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost.
For out in the world we find success begins with a fellow’s will.
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you are outclassed, you are.
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before you can ever win the prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man.
But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.

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