Forget the bad “manager.” A good one can be trouble too!


Being the “manager” just isn’t going to cut it in today’s light speed business environment. You’ve got to be a leader––

In the classic sense, even the best “manager” is not going to be competitive today. Management is about process, and it’s about meeting standards. And with workplace engagement, loyalty and trust in management at all time lows––those standards are woefully low.

"The manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why. The manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”

~Warren G. Bennis

Leadership is about people––and about exceeding those standards. It’s about bringing out the absolute best in people and inspiring them to go the extra mile for themselves and the organization.

But let’s not get lost in philosophical niceties. This is not about making people feel good, thought that is usually an added benefit. It’s about tapping into the deepest recesses of human inspiration and uniting people in a dedicated pursuit of excellence.

And it’s simple––though not always easy!

Let’s bring this down to earth and talk about simple, actionable, effective strategies you can apply immediately.

If you want to inspire people––be inspirational…

This is not as complicated as it seems. People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. If you want an inspired group around you––inspire them with your own performance. Every day.

You don’t need to do anything grand or even special. Some of the most inspirational leaders are simply the people who roll up their their sleeves and sometimes those who aren’t afraid to jump in the trenches.

The old term that still works, to a degree, is MBWA: management by walking around. The problem is still the work “management” which too often gets associated with “checking up.”

Let’s substitute MLP: “making leadership personal.” Don’t just check up on people––get involved––up close and in person. Ask people about what they’re doing. Ask about their concerns, interests and ambitions. Once in a while, roll up your sleeves and pitch in––even if it’s something you’ve never tried before.

Live the Vision…

One of the top 3 personal motivators identified by Daniel Pink’s research is “purpose.”

You can motivate people by incentives––up to their perceived valued of that incentive. And that might be radically different than yours. This is why the “manager” is so often frustrated when people just don’t respond to what they think is a terrific bonus or enticement.

If you want people to go the extra mile and contribute that elusive “discretionary effort,” then it has to be at their discretion. This means they have to decide to do it on their own, regardless of the tangible rewards.

The only thing that consistently produces that extra effort is purpose. Is the purpose clear? Is it clearly articulated? Does everyone understand it? Did they have a role in developing it?

A vision or purpose cannot be relegated to a plaque, poster or slogan at the annual meeting. You must live this vision and purpose and become a living embodiment of what the team is striving for.

There is one other extremely powerful thing you can do to inspire people to their highest levels of performance…

Give them power and authority. Again this taps into Pink’s research. He identified mastery and autonomy as two other highly effective motivators. I’d only add that combined, autonomy, mastery and purpose do much more than motivate. They inspire…

But only when a leader is committed to creating these conditions. Any one of us might be personally motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose, but when we have a leader who empowers us by creating these opportunities, we are truly inspired.

You develop autonomy by sharing power and authority. As Lao Tzu said long ago:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

You develop mastery by providing opportunities for growth and development. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Actively seek out the best qualities of the people you serve and cultivate them.

When people feel as if they’re growing, it gives them additional purpose and of course, earns them greater autonomy. This is a very inspirational cycle!

Before we wrap this up, I want to emphasize the importance of just being human as an inspirational force…

Think about the most inspirational leaders throughout history. The leaders who inspire us most are not aloof. They’re the ones who walked with us, spoke directly to us and showed us they were one of us.

They share our same hopes and dreams––vision.

They’ve been through the same hardships and faced the same challenges––walked the walk.

They’re not perfect and don’t pretend to be––but they’re doing their best.

If you want to be truly inspirational, be genuinely human. Or as the great Samurai Hideyoshi said:

“Be a leader. Not a superior.”

That’s a great place to start!

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© 2020 by Black Belt Mindset Productions and Jim Bouchard