Leadership Question #3: How Can You Keep Inspiration Alive?

Continuing in my series of “20 Leadership Questions,” we come to the third question that Michael Smith asked when he interviewed me. This is one that every leader inevitably faces as his organizations grows.

Businessman Watering Grass in the Desert - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell, Image #7597823

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

Michael asked,

As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the ‘institution’ to dampen the ‘inspiration.’ How do you keep this from happening?”

We’ve all experienced it: the large bureaucracy where where the employees seem to be just punching the clock.

Last week, I had to get my drivers license renewed. This meant a trip to the Department of Safety’s Driver Service Center. While the process was quicker and more efficient than I expected, the people working the counter seemed lifeless. No smiles. No warmth. Just marking time. It was a little depressing.

However, this happens in the private sector as well. In fact, it happens any time people get disconnected from the their purpose.

Here are four ways you can keep inspiration alive in your organization:

  1. Connect people to the larger story. People want to know that their organization matters. They want to know it is making a difference in the world. For this to happen, you must connect them to the larger story. Why was your organization founded? Why does it exist? What would happen if it disappeared? What is really at stake?
  2. Remind people why they matter. It’s one thing to understand that the organization matters. It’s another thing to understand that they matter—and they do. But they must be reminded. They must be affirmed. They must understand how their actions contribute to the overall mission. While this might be clear to you, it is probably not that clear to them. This is why you must help them “connect the dots.”
  3. Resist creating new policies. I have seen this over and over again in organizations. Someone makes a mistake. Rather than dealing with the problem—which is likely an exception or an anomaly—the leaders create a new policy. Over time, these policies slow an organization down, like the ropes that rendered Gulliver immovable. The better tactic is to deal with problems and people head-on and only institute a policy if the behavior happens repeatedly or spreads beyond the original situation.
  4. Set the pace for what you expect in others. This is ultimately your most important leadership tool. You cannot create an inspiring organization without being an inspiring person. If you want people to be positive and upbeat, you must be positive and upbeat. If you want people to be flexible and embrace change, then you must be flexible and embrace change. Like it or not, your people will mimic your priorities, values, and behavior. To quote Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

While there may be a tendency for your organization to become more bureaucratic as it grows, this is not inevitable. However, it does take a leader who is determined to inspire himself and then inspire others.

Question: What do you do to actively inspire those who follow you?
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