Leadership: Inspire the Heart

Last week we began adding a deeper level of understanding about emotions to improve our abilities to lead. Let’s continue our exploration of delving into the most impactful emotion a leadership can evoke— inspiration.

Emotions are the brain’s way of quickly responding to the events in our lives by interpreting our internal responses. The interception system weighs pleasant vs. unpleasant and relaxing vs. a call to action (fight or flight) to inform our responses.  Emotions are instantaneous and habituated; similar events tend to evoke similar emotions. Consider what habituated response your team has to you? Are people pleased to see you— or does your presence evoke anxiety and dread?

Some managers want to be everyone’s friend, like the director who was so conflict-averse she believed that it did not matter if the team had the best solution as long as everyone agreed. Her team drifted into complacency. Diametrically opposed are the bosses, who thrive on the anxieties of others. They adhere to a school of thought that performance is maximized through intimidation. One manager joked with me about never being a victim of a heart attack because he was a carrier. Clearly, his brand of leadership tilted more towards the unpleasant rather than the pleasant spectrum. Intimidation generates activity— but it is not sustainable because it drives talent away, only those without better options endure.

If the goal is sustainable profitability, engagement is the best solution in a competitive market.  The international consulting firm Watson-Wyatt found that companies with engaged workers held a double-digit advantage over their competitors in productivity and profitability.

Engagement is the key. In an earlier post, we introduced the Workforce Engagement Equation©(TheWEQ), people become engaged when they are personally satisfied and invested in the organization. Let’s combine our understanding of emotions with TheWEQ to create the conditions that satisfy 33 percent of the equation: Hope and Purpose.

Why do people work? And, why should they work hard for you? The least inspirational answer you can give is for the money. Yes, money is important, few of us can work for free and most of us would not, even if we could. As it relates to long-term satisfaction, money is considered necessary but insufficient. We need it, but I know many people who work for less than they could elsewhere because they love what they do and who they work for. I have also never met anyone on their deathbeds who said, “If I had one more dollar in the bank, my life would have had meaning, then it all would have been worth it.” In fact, I have met more satisfied people in lower paying jobs that they felt passionate about. Do not get me wrong here, this does not mean paying people less then they deserve is not the answer here—that subtracts 50 percent from the equation in terms of hope, control, and equity!

The key to creating inspiration is helping people see why they matter and why what they are doing matters. For example, one of my clients assembled a diverse multinational workforce to build a world-class facility. To make this project a reality, the team had to put in extraordinarily long hours, overcame many obstacles, and creatively solve thousands of complex engineering, construction, and people issues. It has not been a sprint—it is been a multi-year marathon. To keep their people focused, engaged, and motivated, they did not talk about profits or shareholder value (though both are extremely important). Instead, they talked about the significance and impact on the national, state, local, and personal levels.  This one facility would reduce the national trade deficit by $7B, which was the largest construction projects in the state’s history, enabled the teachers and police in the county to get raises, and support the families and friends of everyone involved in it. What they do matters. Your projects may not be on this scale, but you can use the same principles. People become motivated when they see that their efforts matter.  Here are some day-to-day examples:

Personal Aid: “Last week when you took the time to really listen to Ms. Thomas and helped her organize her drawers, it really brightened her day. I heard her telling others at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She even mentioned it again this morning – you really helped her, thanks!”

Sales Clerk: “Your bright smile and willingness to work with every customer like they are the only one who matters, has really made a difference. A client told me this morning that they drive 20 minutes further to the south-side just because of the customer service.”

IT Specialist: “At yesterday’s team meeting, you really helped us sort out the pros and cons of the coding options. Either solution would have been ok, but when you outlined how the code would impact the user experience, it made the decision easy. I really appreciate how you consider both the technical and the human factors of our product.”

Using language that is factual and highlights the benefits of a team member’s efforts reinforces why they matter, how they are making a difference. Your positive rapport will reinforce their contributions and welcome you when they see you coming. Remember, you may be only a person in the world, but for someone, you may be the world.

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