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I often say that transformative leadership is not about acquiring a bunch of skills and tools. It is about discovering what is in the way of us showing up as the leader that we are. It is the commitment to the mission of the team, having the right mindset, and demonstrating the behaviors that enables, empowers, and energizes team members. Transformative leaders elevate the focus of every conversation from survival to possibility. They bring a genuine and contagious spirit of hope and enthusiasm that dwarfs the challenges the team faces in the context of the greater purpose they are committed to fulfill.
Unfortunately, according to overwhelming statistics, most of us wish our boss was the kind of leader who got this stuff and would do a better job of motivating us, and the majority of us don’t feel motivated to even go out and try to do this for people who count on us for leadership. I definitely found myself in that place when I was responsible for motivating a bunch of people when I, myself, felt demotivated. So what is there to do? As leaders, we are not supposed to just become part of this vicious cycle and pass whatever rolls downhill on to our people. We are supposed to break the cycle, to act like shock absorbers and deal with whatever we have to deal with and still be a source of inspiration to our people. But how do you muster the energy to do that without being inauthentic and fake?
I’d like to share a few insights that helped me solve this dilemma and be authentic and true to myself while effectively motivating my team at the same time, even when I didn’t feel motivated myself. I hope you will find some of these reminders practical and useful in your journey.
- You don’t have to be perfect to be a great leader – Accept that you will always fall short of being perfect and on most days you will be far from it. Stop beating yourself up about dropping the ball and choose to not use your imperfections as an excuse to give up on being a great leader. It is not lack of blemishes and imperfections in leaders that inspires people, it is how leaders handle their deficiencies and shortcomings that helps them build credibility with their people as a real person who has chosen to show up as a leader. That is what gives others hope that they too can be leaders, even if they are not perfect. Next time you find yourself disappointed in yourself, get in action to clean it up and keep moving forward.
- How you feel doesn’t always have to be a pre-requisite for how you behave – One of the greatest lessons I was reminded of as I read James Hunter’s book, The Servant, is that love is a verb, not just a feeling. You don’t have to feel love for someone to behave in a loving manner toward them. Many other leadership attributes fall into the same category. You can listen, share information, make decisions, etc. even if you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to get permission from your feelings to act according to your values and it is a lot easier to behave your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of behaving.
- You can be authentic and energizing at the same time, even when you have major concerns – I have found that the unsaid has power over me and when I acknowledge the presence of a concern and bring it out in the open, I can be more objective and see it for what it is, and not what I have made it out to be in my mind. If something is eating at you, don’t try to hide it and deny it exists. If you can deal with it privately, do it, but if not, be straight about it. This demonstrates to your team that you are okay with being vulnerable and sharing what you don’t feel good about. However, you must also take responsibility for not acting like a victim and declare your commitment to a brighter future in spite of the current situation. I believe this sends a strong signal to the team that they are not going to only succeed when all conditions are in their favor, but that they too can keep moving forward, even when they have concerns.
- You, and only you, are responsible for your emotions – Sometimes we feel demotivated and don’t know why. Other times we may know what has caused us to be demotivated and our natural tendency is to look out there at other people, circumstances, and events to find the root cause. The best antidote to this cycle of being at the effect of your environment and perpetuating the same thing you are complaining about is to take responsibility for your own emotions. Remind yourself that what other people do has nothing to do with you, and how you feel about what they say and do has nothing to do with them. Take responsibility for pinpointing what inside of you has allowed the situation to get you down and deal with that. This makes it much easier to either accept the circumstance, just as it is, or accept the responsibility for changing it.
- Things are a lot less complicated than they seem – Our minds have the capacity to create complex cause and effect relationships and draw conclusions that we believe to be true in a split second. This ability can be a blessing if you can be present and intentionally channel your creative powers, but it can also be a curse because most of the time we tend to over-complicate things and get completely overwhelmed. One of my favorite fictional characters, Forrest Gump, accomplished more in his lifetime than most in spite of, and I believe primarily because of, his lack of sophistication. He had a one track mind and simply did what needed to be done without over-thinking. Next time you find yourself caught in the complex web woven by your internal dialogue, just focus on two questions: “What outcome am I committed to creating?” and, “What’s the most important step I can take now?” and get in action.
- You can generate yourself – Have you ever successfully faked being in good spirits at a gathering when you had an argument with your significant other just before you arrived? Well, that's not what I'm talking about. In those instances, you don't create a fundamental shift in your experience and you are only putting on a mask to make sure you don't look bad. If you are intentional, you can go beyond faking it and choose to shift your focus to the outcome you are committed to and behave according to your faith in that outcome, not the fear that it may not come to pass. Next time you found yourself demotivated, choose to magnify your faith in a positive outcome and actively spread the good news with enthusiasm.
- The conversations you are in determine how you experience life – Start with the conversation you are having with yourself all the time. The one that is always trying to talk you out of doing what you know you need to do to succeed. In other words, if you’re in your head, get out because it’s a bad neighborhood! Secondly, don’t give in to the urge to talk to people who will let you vent and gossip forever. Identify people who are willing to engage in a dialogue of transformation, not just survival, with you and be your accountability partners, and next time you find yourself in a bad place, call them up.
- Focusing on a higher purpose than your own survival or success gets you out of the rut – Would you agree that most of the negative thoughts and feelings that you experience can be traced to some thwarted expectation or fear that you may not get what you want? They are all about you, and if you get your focus off of you and on a greater purpose, many of your negative emotions go away and make room for transformative thoughts. I practice this every time I get ready to go on stage to present by reminding myself that it is not about me and whether I look good or bad. Even though I like to entertain the audience and keep them engaged, what I do is not a performance. It is about making a difference in the lives of the family members of the employees of the leaders who are listening to my talk. This greater purpose always centers me on what really matters and eliminates my anxiety about how it will go. Next time you feel like you don't make a difference and what you do doesn't matter, begin to dwell on the greater purpose. You'll be a lot more enthusiastic about laying bricks if you relate to your work as building a cathedral!
I'd urge you to pick one or two of the above points and be intentional about observing and adjusting your thoughts and behavior in those areas and watch it completely transform your ability to motivate yourself and others around you.
The Bottom Line:
It is not easy to always feel motivated enough to get out and motivate others. There are a number of thoughts that go through our minds that sabotage our progress as leaders. We feel like throwing in the towel and often do so because we think we are not good enough, or that we don't make a difference anyway. We let others, or circumstances, or events determine how we feel and we act on our emotions rather than our commitment. We over-complicate things, look for evidence in our conversations that the situation is completely out of hand and therefore is not worth getting into action to motivate our teams to go for something extraordinary. The good news is that by recognizing these thought patterns and being intentional about adopting a different thought process, we can energize our team even when we are not feeling energized ourselves, and ultimately we behave our way into a new way of thinking and feeling.
Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a side note, last month, Kintone interviewed me for their new blog series titled Transformation Talk. Check out the interview for more on my Servant Leadership journey and for practical ways in which you can lead like a Transformative Leader: How Radical Self-Awareness Won Over Employees and Transformed an Organization
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