Some time ago, in a meeting I was facilitating, people were going around introducing themselves. One of the long-time veterans of that organization stood up and introduced himself in the following way: “My name is Bill. I don’t remember how long I’ve been here, but I have 54 months to go!”
You would think that Bill represents a rare minority of cynical people. However, my experience says otherwise. Unfortunately, I find cynical and resigned people at all levels of all organizations.
When I ask senior executives, “How is your leadership team doing?” I often get a stock answer of, “My leaders are excited and in great shape.” However, when I attend their meetings, I often find them to be uninspired and uninspiring. The bar for what passes as ‘inspired and energized‘ in corporations today seems to be low, very low.
Oddly enough, a lot of executives and leaders still don’t seem to view the creation of inspiration as a critical aspect of their roles. Some think it’s nice to have, but many still think it’s not up to them to provide. A few even view inspiration as irrelevant altogether. These executives often believe that what truly motivates people is pay, objectives, compensation and bonuses. I call these the myths of motivation.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not disparaging pay, compensation or bonuses. They are indeed an important part of any motivational strategy. However, I have seen situations where people could double and triple their bonus if they collaborated and worked together, but they still stayed siloed and didn’t work together. On the other hand, I have seen situations where people had no financial incentive to collaborate, but they still did the right and best thing for their company by collaborating with genuine commitment and passion.
My point is that being energized and inspired is something that first comes from within, not from external circumstances. Yes, external circumstances can help, but ultimately they are not the main determiners of how people feel and act. When people feel included, valued, cared for and that they can make a difference, they can’t help themselves but get energized and inspired. And, because any organization is always a reflection of its leaders, inspiration and energy have to start and come from the top.
So, how can today’s overwhelmed and overworked leaders energize their staff on a day-by-day basis and make sure people are not cynical? Here are a few simple tips to start you off:
- Show up and listen. I have often heard the complaint in organizations that leaders and managers simply don’t listen. If you want to energize your people spend some dedicated time each day, week or month walking the floors, showing concern, interacting with team members, asking people how they are doing and what you could do for them. And, then follow up with whatever comes out of those interactions and conversations.
- Follow up and follow through. So much of the cynicism that people have, especially in organizations, comes from a lack of follow up and follow through. Teams make decisions and then there is no follow-up or follow-through. Leaders and managers promise things and then they leave things vague, they don’t do what they said and they don’t acknowledge or change their promises. When it comes to acknowledging what was promised, following through and doing what you said there is no difference between big strategic promises and small tactical ones. If you don’t follow up and follow through even in the small things, people will become skeptical and cynical around you.
- Praise, recognize and thank people. I have written so much about this. It doesn’t cost a penny to say “Thank you!” and it goes a long, long way to engage and motivate people. However, another big complaint in organizations is a lack of recognition. Well if you want to energize your people and avoid cynicism, go out of your way – every day – to praise, recognize and thank them. In fact, always recognize people in public and criticize them in private. This way they’ll feel respected and trusted.
- Encourage, promote and reward high ownership and accountability. People who are up to something from time-to-time make mistakes. The only way to avoid that is to play so small that your mistakes are irrelevant. When employees play big the impact of their mistakes tend to be big too. However, responsible people go out of their way to learn from their mistakes and correct them. By showing them that you respect ownership and accountability they’ll play even harder, bigger and with more commitment.
- Encourage new ideas. There is always more than one way to get anything done. In addition, different people have different ways ideas and styles about how to effectively make things happen. As long as the objectives and key ethical values are clear and adhered to, it’s actually healthy to allow employees some room to innovate. And, it goes a long way to strengthen ownership and defeat cynicism.
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