Most of us would readily acknowledge that an effective leader is one who leads by inspiration, not by intimidation.
Maybe fear worked once upon a time, when employees felt grateful to have jobs and the corporate ladder was seen as the only real path to success.
Todays landscape is vastly different. The corporate world faces significant competition to retain talent, both internally and externally.
Most importantly, employees’ attitudes to work are also changing. Professor of Business Kenneth Thomas attributes this to a switch among us from an extrinsic to an intrinsic reward system.
His research reveals that motivations are shifting to be driven by the “psychological rewards employees get from doing meaningful work”.
If the stick doesn’t hold much weight as a leadership style, the carrot is dying too: higher salaries, better perks, stock options and bigger bonuses aren’t necessarily helping leaders win the war for top talent.
As Thomas notes, employees are increasingly driven by a search for “meaningful purpose”.
People on your team are no longer aspiring to become the next Wolf Of Wall Street – chances are, they dream of rising through the ranks at Uber, Netflix or Google – companies which have worked tremendously hard to create a culture of meaningful work.
Today’s employees want to be inspired. They want to be part of a mission. They want a purpose.
You need only look at the statistics to see the opportunity that lays before us: 77% of employees say they would work harder if they were better recognised, while a Gallup study finds that an engaged workforce realises 27% higher profits, 50% higher sales, 50% higher customer loyalty levels and 38% above-average productivity.
The migration of corporate talent to the startup world speaks to the same.
As you think about how you can use your authority to foster a sense of unity, cohesion and common purpose among your team, consider taking a closer look at these 3 requirements to help you along this path:
1) Define your WHY.
In that now-famous Ted Talk about inspirational leadership, Simon Sinek espouses the importance of placing your purpose, your mission, at the forefront of everything you do.
For Sinek, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” – and all great leaders, from Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King, have been able to inspire people to action because of the clarity of their “why”.
Brian Halligan, CEO and Founder of HubSpot, concords: your “compelling why” should be “baked into everything you do”.
The first step, then, to inspirational leadership is to define your why. Defining your purpose is a case of really digging deep – not on what you do or how you do it, but fundamentally understanding what motivates you; what you really believe in and what you get out of bed for.
In his book Lead with Purpose, internationally-esteemed leadership consultant John Baldoni outlines the three questions you must ask to define your purpose:
- What is our vision – that is, what do we want to become?
- What is our mission – that is, what do we do now?
- What are our values – that is, what are the behaviours we expect of ourselves?
(Baldoni, John, Lead with Purpose. AMACOM, 2011. P22)
Invest some time in asking and answering these questions – having a clear, well-defined purpose is the building block to everything else you’ll do as a leader.
2) Communicate your WHY.
The shift away from a top-down model of leadership is demanding a more sophisticated, conversational communication process to drive employee engagement.
Simply having a well-defined purpose isn’t enough: you need to be able to express it, clearly and eloquently, to every single person you come into contact with:
Be a Storyteller
According to Camille Mirshokrai, Global Director of Leadership Development for Accenture, the biggest communication mistake leaders make is being too vague in their communication:
“What people remember are specifics. […] That’s what people need to hear”.
She recommends a storytelling approach to communication, incorporating examples from your own life and experience, your own successes and failures, to illustrate your purpose.
A storytelling approach is effective because it creates context that makes the story – and the lesson behind the story – memorable, compelling and action-inducing.
Leaders should embrace this principle – flesh out your next communication in the same way you’d relay an anecdote, embedding your core message in a narrative of relatable, empathetic experience.
For Lucidity CEO, Michele Gilliam Morrissey, the biggest mistake in CEO communication to be a preoccupation with audience perception. For Morrissey, executives need to be authentic above all else, because people admire and connect to authenticity:
“Everyone should seek to deliver to the world that which is in them that the world should not do without”.
Be true to who you are and what you believe, and you’ll draw other people into you who hold the same beliefs.
Brian Halligan advises the same: “Disrupt the herd and start your own”.
Amy Rees Anderson has been CEO of multiple high-growth companies and she recommends a simple, practical tip to drastically improve CEO communication, culture and bottom line: improve CEO visibility by introducing a daily message board.
For Anderson, it’s all too easy for a CEO to get bogged down by the never-ending to-do pile, but nothing could be more important, or impactful, than making time to communicate consistently, genuinely and transparently with her company:
“The more I shared the more the employees got behind me and supported me as their leader, the quicker they forgave me when I made mistakes, and the more they cared about helping each other and the company succeed.”
3) Empower your people to enact their WHY.
Coming back to Sinek’s talk, simply having a clear why is only the start.
Defining it and communicating it clearly are valuable because of the people you draw into you because of that:
“The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe”.
Once you’ve surrounded yourself with people who believe what you believe, empower them to bring that purpose to life.
Utility company Exelon offers a worthy example.
Under CEO Christopher Crane this traditionally conservative firm have introduced an “intrapreneurism initiative”, offering their 30,000 employees an online platform to suggest ideas for the business, which are then reviewed and discussed at executive level.
AccuWeather’s Joel Myers offers similar advice, stating a commitment to intrapreneurism and willing embrace of radical ideas as key elements of a successful leadership plan.
Anderson, too. Alongside a CEO message board, she implemented an online Idea Board where each employee could contribute ideas about any aspect of the company – increasing employee commitment and ownership and driving company innovation and growth.
At the core, your ability to gain influence lays comes down to your ability to listen.
Give them a platform to express ideas and encourage innovation. That’s when you see real results – because 10, 100, 1000 people are bringing their perspective to bear in pursuit of a unified goal.
Key Point To Remember:
Changing global conditions and attitudes mean fear, or even a good old-fashioned carrot, aren’t strong enough cement to bind companies together. Instead, employees are motivated by an aligned purpose and a common goal.
Defining, communicating and empowering people in pursuit of this goal are the three attributes that the modern leader needs to master – or lose their top talent to a leader who has.