Inspired Leadership

I’m musing this morning on the idea of inspired leadership ~ what motivates people to join an organization, and then, to want to stay involved with it? In the business world, the potential of financial gain is often the initial attraction factor. Charity/voluntary organizations rely on espri de corps and vision to attract its members. In the family unit, we are born into it by default.

But money alone usually won’t keep most (the psychopaths or the deeply wounded aside) of us punching the time clock of any particular business. Volunteers generally expect to receive something (however intangible) back for their time and efforts. And how many stories have you heard of people who want nothing to do with other members of their families?

One of my all-time favorite films, Joe vs The Volcano wonderfully illustrates the soul-destroying effect that simply working for a paycheck can have on us.

At the heart of every successful organization, (or solid family, but to simplify, I’ll stay with the organizational/business theme) you’ll find a unifying element exists within it. The elemental factor may be a vision held by its workforce. Or, an inspirational leader(s) that aligns and directs his or her as well as the organization's energies toward a common and beneficial goal. The best will have both.

Hmm, well, what factors would make a leader inspirational to others? I propose that all great leaders realize that an organization is, at its most fundamental level, a team of people. And a key component to building and sustaining a healthy successful organization is the recognition that its people who matter most.

In The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters, author and investment analyst Alexander Green gives us a couple examples of great inspirational leadership.

The first is Lou Holtz, one of America’s all-time great football coaches. As the keynote speaker for a 2008 fundraising event for the American Cancer Society in Orlando, Holtz shared his leadership philosophy with the audience:

Leadership begins with recognizing that everybody needs four things:

  1. something to do
  2. someone to love
  3. something to hope for
  4. and something to believe in

Strategic plans don’t excite anybody. Dreams excite people... And every employee, every team member, wants to know the same thing: Do you really care about me? Every successful organization shows its people they genuinely matter.

If you are a parent, a manager, or otherwise functioning in some leadership capacity, how might you provide inspirational leadership for your organization? I’d suggest examining your relationship with those whom you engage ~ are you first setting an example for your team-members; letting the people around you know how important they are?

This is the heart-based manner of an inspired leader. Its wisdom is beautifully illustrated by the second example Green gives of an inspirational leader. The following excerpt is from an April 23, 2007 article, Godly Work, published by Forbes magazine. Columnist, Rich Karlgaard relates this story told by Nancy Ortberg, an emergency room nurse who was finishing up work one night before heading home:

The doctor with whom I was working was debriefing a new doctor, who had done a very respectable, competent job, telling him what he’d done well and what he could have done differently.

Then he put his hand on the young doctor’s shoulder and said, ‘When you finished, did you notice the young man from housekeeping who came in to clean the room?’ There was a completely blank look on the young doctor’s face.

The older doctor said, ‘His name is Carlos. He’s been here for three years. He does a fabulous job. When he comes in he gets the room turned around so fast that you and I can get our next patients in quickly. His wife’s name is Maria. They have four children.’ Then he named each of the four children and gave each child’s age.

The older doctor went on to say, ‘He lives in a rented house about three blocks from here, in Santa Ana. They’ve been up from Mexico for about five years. His name is Carlos,’ he repeated. Then he said, ‘Next week I would like you to tell me something about Carlos that I don’t already know. Okay? Now, let’s go check on the rest of the patients.

Great leaders don’t focus only on building wealth, recognition and accomplishment. They know the heart and soul, the strength of any organization, is its people.

True success doesn't come from just focusing on achieving your dreams. Your own dreams are realized by helping those around you achieve theirs. So, get to know the team-members of your organization ~ how can their needs be met? What are their dreams ~ how can you help them to manifest? Don’t just say that you care. And for goodness sake! Don’t pretend an emotion that’s not legit. But do practice its cultivation if need be. And show with your actions how you feel about those people with whom you engage. Be the best person you can be, and lead by example.

June 20, 2009

Added 12/2/12

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