If you are a leader in any capacity whatsoever, odds are that you have heard, or perhaps even been told that you should be more inspiring. When I co-authored the book The Inspiring Leader, we studied the ability to inspire and motivate others and found that it was the most influential leadership trait promoting employee engagement. Additionally, when subordinates were asked what characteristic they most wanted from their managers, it was to be more inspiring. But who has the time?
The secret is not to create additive work in your efforts to inspire others. Rather, take small steps to change your approach to doing the work you must already. So as you try to be more inspiring to those you work with try the following.
Be an exemplar of the behaviors you wish to see in others. If you want to instill greater collaboration in your business, be a role model of doing so and visibly demonstrate your cooperative efforts with others. Discuss it in meetings. Celebrate team success. Recognize collaboration efforts elsewhere. Behaviors of key leaders tend to proliferate. Make sure you are proliferating good ones by getting out in front and displaying the traits you want to see flourish in your organization. You know this, right? People will do as you—and other key leaders do. This takes virtually no extra time.
Connect on a human level and use emotions to your favor. One of my clients is a manufacturer of major commercial equipment. In a meeting with their senior managers we discussed that while they build machines, they build those machines through people. We don’t operate like machines and because of that we need to connect with those around us as people. Not as a job function to be completed or a task to be accomplished, but as people with feelings, goals, and individual needs. For some leaders a good place to start is simply using some good manners (something I find all too often lacking). For others, understanding a person’s point of view and what is important to them, is a powerful means to further develop someone’s engagement in your team. You are already interacting with the people you want to inspire so take a few precious minutes to change the tone and tenor of the conversation.
Prioritize innovation over problem solving. The best leaders I work with are constantly seeking to raise the bar. When presented with challenges, they use them as a chance to innovate and try something completely different and creative. My avatar for innovation is Antanas Mockus, the former Mayor of Bogotá Colombia. When confronted with major traffic problems in Bogotá, he didn’t go the conventional problem-solving route of more police, harsher fines, or typical traffic problem solving approaches. He hired 420 mimes to mock people misbehaving at intersections throughout the city. Fatalities and accidents decreased due to his very creative approach. As an aside, this is not permission to go mock your employees. That’s not the point here. You are already spending this time trying to solve problems so thinking creatively doesn’t have to take more time. But it does require you to be intentional about it and create an environment where it is safe to express new ideas.
Stop emailing and do more live communicating. Sure, email is a form of communication, but it is one-dimensional. Personal interaction is best when you need to communicate matters of strategic importance, engage in discussions about alternatives, or topics that are nuanced and can’t be sufficiently addressed using the forum of email. I’ve heard suggestions that when an email thread has been commented on three times and an issue is still lingering that email is no longer an effective medium to resolve the issue. If you are not in the same location, pick up the phone. Walk down the hall. Use a videoconference. Anything that brings additional dimensions to your communication with others. Don’t kid yourself about email being efficient. Just because you send an email doesn’t mean something is done. Try adding up the collective wasted time on extending decisions, discussions, and deliberations on email. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say this will save you time.
Develop the skills of someone else. Nothing inspires loyalty like helping someone improve. This rarely occurs as an HR or talent development initiative as a means to develop bench strength. This happens most effectively when a leader highlights the growth and learning of people on their team. In one of my first jobs I worked for a manager who prioritized my development with training, coaching, and investing in my growth as a professional. Twenty years later he still inspires me when I speak with him. Helping others to grow and coaching to improve performance almost always drives loyalty, increases engagement, and ultimately improves performance. This will take you more time. But it doesn’t have to be a lot. In fact, if you focus on developing others in the context of the work you are doing through modeling, planning, and debriefing, you will accomplish two things at once.
None of these are particularly onerous time commitments. Pick one or two of these areas of focus and work on them. Here’s the trick. It is tough to become an inspiring leader with one action per week that you remember to check off at 4:45 pm on Friday afternoon. You need to create simple and demonstrative actions daily, even multiple times daily to develop a habit with impact. In most cases, it is not about creating additive work. Rather, it is finding ways to integrate new behaviors in the work you are already doing. Surely you can spare ten minutes a day, right?