When It Comes To Inspiration, “Cui Bono?”
In the midst of a recent conversation with a mentor, the leadership style of a famous leader was discussed. In the process of considering a historical anecdote involving this leader, it became apparent that something I may have taken for granted to date was in fact a very clear metaphysical process that I had been absorbing for years but had not clearly defined. In checking the posts for this blog, this does not seem to be an area mentioned but it seems incredibly critical. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Inspiration is of course one of the desired outcomes of your leadership. Inspired troops perform inspired feats. The leader who can instill within those they are privileged to lead, the spark that drives a person or a team to a successful end is a force multiplier for the organization. Much has been written before about the importance of improving your dynamic in this area (or having a dynamic). So, in the midst of all this inspiration-generating skill steps behavior you are projecting upon the team, who inspires you? The answer may not be as simple as “hey – whoever I work for!”
Leaders must have inspiration. Inspiring yourself is a difficult task. You can motivate yourself, but inspiration is generally an external application. As a leader, what are your sources? It could be in the negative, such as past rejections, or a lack of confidence in your skills by others that you choose to light your fire. It could be that leader who thought you capable of a task you didn’t and proceeded to put you on the spot. Their confidence in you may have been the boost you needed to get by your own self-doubt. Watching flawed people, held back by some kind of force or challenge beyond their control, who push forward to accomplish, can be an incredibly inspiring event as we wrestle with pushing ourselves. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” (and many others) defines his highest level of leadership behavior as a combination of humility and intense will to succeed. These types of leaders want their organizations to succeed even beyond them and routinely pick excellent successors.
Allow The Jersey to put one particular source on the table for you right now. Great leaders are able to draw inspiration from their team, and from the daily commitment to the team that the troops have made. Witnessing total commitment in action should be a humbling experience to someone in charge. This team that you have worked hard to earn the right to lead is now yours to command. For better or worse, you are the source of their inspiration, motivation, and skill building. When it takes hold, and you realize that they are following you, you better be humbled. That is an incredible responsibility and it is not owed to you. You earn it, every day.
The leadership behavior of Manage By Walking Around as described by Tom Peters and others is a valid tool in your kit to keep you connected to where the work happens. You may think that under the best circumstances, your spontaneous outreach will inspire the troops to even greater heights. However, the a-Ha moment is when you witness first hand their total commitment to what is going on and in the end, inspires you to be worthy of their loyalty, respect, and followership.
“The job of getting people really wanting to do something is the essence of leadership. And one of the things a leader needs occasionally is the inspiration he gets from the people he leads. The old tactical textbooks say that the commander always visits his troops to inspire them to fight. I for one soon discovered that one of the reasons for my visiting the front lines was to get inspiration from the young American soldier. I went back to my job ashamed of my own occasional resentments or discouragements, which I probably — at least I hope I concealed them.” – President Dwight David Eisenhower, September 10, 1955