Posts Tagged ‘executive development’

An unpopular way to inspire

In a world where everyone appears to be shouting loudly (whether verbally or through the written word in their social media posts) to push others to think differently and act differently, it can seem as if forcing one’s hand is the only way to bring about change.

How did this become the norm, and when did the art of inspirational leadership lose its foothold?

It was the 14th century when the word inspire first came into use, carrying much of the same meaning then which it does today: to influence, move, or guide, not by force, but by a divine power, empowering followers to action. It was a metaphorical use of it’s Latin root inspirare which means to breathe or blow into to create something new [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inspire]. We figuratively refer to this when we say things like, “that vacation was a much-needed breath of fresh air”, or when a particular confrontation is stifling, “I need to get some air”.

I can’t help but think of a blow-up raft, which, when uninflated, is rather useless, but when filled with air, it’s capable of fulfilling its intended purpose. Inspirational leadership is like that. It’s the act of breathing life into others so they are then capable of being their best self, not only fulfilling their intended purpose, but motivated to create and achieve great things.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.”

— John Quincy Adams

Back to the yelling. When you hear inflamed insults, name-calling, and outbursts of verbal venom spewing forth, do you feel inspired to dream more, learn more, and do more? Do you experience inspirare, your heart and soul filled and brimming over with the oxygen-rich motivation to become your best self and accomplish bigger, better things? Or instead, do the angry affronts leave you feeling rather deflated?

Inspirational leadership is the ability to mobilize individuals and groups by articulating a clear, compelling and motivational vision for the future. Those who possess this superpower (I jest, we all are capable of it, with some superpower effort!) are able to bring people together in unified efforts to reach an intelligible, enthralling objective. And one very effective way to do this is to be a servant leader.

Servant leader. It’s a phrase first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader. It’s not the most provocative phrase, is it? Where’s the passion, the persuasiveness, the power that we so often associate with leadership? For many, the word servant evokes images of weakness and ineffectiveness. If this is you, I challenge you to allow for a paradigm shift, for this humble, quieter style of leadership may very well be the most powerful breath of fresh air needed to inspire others.

Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on others’ needs and objectives, and seek to understand the why behind those needs and objectives. They are able to see and appreciate others’ perspectives. They actively look for ways to increase others’ satisfaction and make themselves available, with gladness, to offer assistance.

Think of someone you know who truly understands you, who ‘gets’ your hopes and dreams, and actively does as much as they can to help make them happen. They listen to you. They validate your viewpoints. They take time out to be with you, show an interest in your life, and truly care. When asked, they are happy to offer support to help you be successful. They celebrate your achievements and mourn your losses, by your side.

If you are so fortunate to have someone like this in your life, a servant leader, you understand the positive impact of the inspirare they provide. Imagine if all of us had these life-breathers encircling and lifting us up. In his article in the Small Business Chronical, Fraser Sherman outlines how servant leadership, in the workplace, can boost morale. He notes “Employees feel valued and they know you are looking out for them. That inspires them to work with more enthusiasm and [better] serve the customers, which benefits your bottom line.” [https://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-servant-leadership-style-11693.html#] Servant leaders also encourage a collaborative workplace, and provide a model of authenticity where employees, in turn, feel safe enough to be authentic, deepening levels of trust within the organization.

Palena Neale, Ph.D., writes in her Forbes article, “Why Servant Leadership is More Important Than Ever“, that our current “new normal” with different ways of operating, sickness, layoffs, furloughs, and at-home employees make this novel style of leadership vital. She writes, “Wider societal impacts include adverse effects on the global economy. This calls for a more comprehensive, communal leadership approach: leadership that is focused on serving others.”[https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/05/26/why-servant-leadership-is-more-important-than-ever/#207f37642861]

In contrast, think of leaders you know who are not on the lookout for the needs of their teams. They focus on their own objectives and often diminish the needs of others. They don’t make time for those ‘beneath’ them, and when they do interact, they are distracted, quick to give quick, “off the shelf” advice or solutions, hurrying the conversation along. They fail to go above and beyond, and team members find themselves saying things like, “I hate to bother you…” or “I’m sorry to take your time but…” at the start of any ask. These individuals tend to speak poorly of others (leaving you to wonder what they say about you when you’re not there), point blame away from themselves, and rarely stand up for the underdog.

Sadly, leaders such as this leave their teams feeling deflated and discouraged.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer

It’s easy to point the finger at those in leadership. “If only leaders would figure this stuff out!”, we say in exasperation. However, we’re talking about emotional intelligence here — that ability to exhibit self-awareness and self-management, and tune into others’ emotions and manage our relationships with them appropriately. If you’re ever tried to control someone else’s behavior, you probably know how well that turns out. We can only change ourselves. So instead of waiting on those who bear the title, let’s instead take the brave task of looking inward as to how we can improve our own inspirational leadership skills. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Get to know people. Ask others how they are doing and really stop to listen. Use open-ended questions to understand the why behind their needs, hopes, dreams. One of my favorite coaching questions, after someone has shared, is,”What else?”
  • Keep an eye out for small ways you can be of service to others. Open the door for someone, offer up the best parking space, spend an extra 5 minutes listening. Offer to buy a colleague’s coffee. Give a sincere compliment. These little gives can help build a new habit of service.
  • Schedule time for others. I know you’re busy. We all are. If it helps, set aside a small amount of time each week on your calendar as ‘Others’ time, so doing something for others actually DOES fit into your schedule.
  • Adopt a yes attitude for a while. When others make requests, think how you CAN help them instead of all the reasons you can’t. If it’s a no, it’s a no, but before you commit to the no, consider alternate ways you could turn it into a yes.
  • Keep your promises. Nothing sucks the air out of someone like a broken promise. Be realistic in what you can do and if you do agree to help someone, make that the priority. You will always have ‘better’ things come up…other opportunities and demands which compete for your time and attention. Though those things may be more attractive — stick to your word.
  • Become an over-deliverer. It’s one thing to meet someone’s needs, but going above and beyond can inspire others to new heights. Again, start small. If someone needs five minutes of your time, offer them ten. If they ask to have coffee, take them out to lunch. If they need an hour off work to tend to stressful events at home, if possible, tell them to take the day.
  • Develop the habit of follow-up. We all appreciate it when someone gives us the time of day, but if it’s a one-off incident, the value of that connection begins to fade with time. Follow up with them. Check in with them, and ask about details you discussed last time. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m not good with names — let alone details!”, write down the things they share with you and review before your next encounter.

Servant leaders have a desire to be the change someone else needs. These days, it’s not the most popular way of leading, and surely won’t get you a lot of attention. And for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it doesn’t come easily. But it is a skill set worth developing. Not only will your efforts breathe life into those around you to be their best, they just may inspire you to discover your own purpose and direction as well.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

Leading with a coach approach

“The greatest good you can do another is not just share your riches, but reveal to him his own.” — Benjamin Franklin

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Very few situations create more resistance than the tasks we’re forced to do. Maybe it’s tracking expenses, or meeting with someone who makes you uncomfortable, or having to reach a sales quota to keep your job. When we have to do something, we often don’t want to, and find every excuse to avoid it. But when we’re motivated  and inspired to accomplish something, especially by intrinsic motivation (the type which draws from our internal values, resulting in ‘feel good’ rewards), we can hardly wait to get started.

More often than not, inspiration does not happen in isolation. Our motivation usually comes from others, often from someone in a leadership position. Think of the last great thing you accomplished. Did you complete the entire feat alone, or were there others who were part of the process, possibly by your side every step of the way, encouraging, bolstering, and inspiring you to be successful?

Some people seem to be gifted with the ability to see other’s potential and take action to help them be the best they can be.  In reality, the skill set they possess can be learned. These rare specimens show a genuine interest in helping others, and take the time it takes to thoroughly understand others’ hopes and dreams. They are able to help others recognize their strengths and also their areas of growth, understand their personal and professional values, and guide others toward moving past hurdles which may be tripping them up. They are able to give constructive and timely feedback when needed, and truly have a heart for the long-term development of others as they stretch toward excellence.

We call these people coaches, or mentors. And when these qualities show up in a leader, we’re inspired. Jack Welch said this, “Being a leader changes everything. Before you are a leader, success is all about you.  It’s about your performance, your contributions, about getting called upon and having the right answers. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.  Your success as a leader comes not from what you do but from the reflected glory of the people you lead.”

The old style of leadership where the boss has all the answers can prove to be very demeaning to those who work with him/her.  When teammates don’t feel like they have a voice, or the environment is not a safe place to exercise their voice, they soon will shut down and not speak up.  This quickly makes the idea pool quite shallow. Because innovate employees are often some of the best, they will no longer be interested in working there.

How can you tell if you’re an old-style leader?  If you can say yes to the following, you may want to shift how you manage others:

  • You direct, dictate, and do most of the talking
  • You presume and assume
  • You manages only for results
  • You solve problems in isolation
  • When things go awry, you assign blame

“Sometimes a person just needs a little inspiration or a different thought to get them propelled in the right direction”. — Tondeleya Allen

On the other hand, leading with a coach approach can inspire and empower your best employees. What is a coach approach? Coaching is a developmental process designed to help individuals and teams achieve and sustain top performance in support of the organization’s goals. It’s a venue for promoting discovery, learning, growth and higher levels of performance. It’s a collaborative effort where the coach serves as a strategic thinking partner, and manager and employee think and plan together. Think of it as an ongoing partnership, a sustained alliance.

Those who lead with a coach approach tend to:

  • guide, empower, and listens a lot
  • explore and discover
  • manage the development of employees
  • create partnerships with employees to collaboratively solve problems
  •  take responsibility when things go awry.

Learning to lead with a coach approach is about understanding the needs of those who work with you.  Here are a few things that people are looking for in someone who is managing them. They want to:

  • Know what is expected of them
  • Have the opportunity to do their best every day
  • Make a contribution
  • Be recognized for their work
  • Have someone at work care enough to encourage their development
  • Have their opinions count and be heard
  • Have the opportunity to learn and grow
  • Be respected

There are many benefits of being a leader who inspires others to be their best. First of all, it makes the manager’s job easier and reduces turnover and associated cost. It increases productivity, improves work quality, and promotes innovation (because the environment is a safe place to take risks). It provides clarification of the manager’s expectations, and “stretches” people to reach for bigger goals, to name a few.

In other words, people who are led with a coach approach become satisfied, engaged employees. Research shows that organizations with above-average employee satisfaction scores also had:

  • 38 percent higher customer satisfaction scores
  • 22 percent higher productivity
  • 27 percent higher profits

Learning to incorporate a coach approach to leadership can help you go from being a good leader to a great leader.  And along the way, you’ll be able to bring others along with you toward that greatness.

“Great leaders can inspire their people to unprecedented feats, convey grand visions of the bright future that beckons, rally the people to heroic efforts in defense of their country or their beliefs.” — Will Peters

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots.

The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.

If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

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