How to inspire people—Part 2

Posted on under Articles

The how-to of being inspiring…

To inspire through ideas you need to have a spiritual message. This need not be religious and indeed in the context of work a religious message may well be out of place. But it has to give people the feeling that you can connect them to some higher purpose. Working to make Coca-Cola the best-selling soft-drink in the world won’t crack it. For a partner of a firm or a manager in a corporation the message has to be about contributing to some greater social purpose:  for those that work at class-action specialists such as Maurice Blackburn the idea—the purpose—might be to make the world a more equitable place by giving the little guy a fair go against the corporate giants. I know partners and lawyers in those firms and, indeed, it is that which inspires them.

You have to work out what the social purpose of the firm is in order to inspire those looking—as gen Y generally are—for a purpose in life. Once the firm—or you as the one giving the message—has connected to the person’s sense of purpose then he or she will become committed to you and to the firm. He or she will likely work very hard in order to further that purpose.

To inspire as a role model within a firm or company the actions that you role model will not be those that are necessarily connected with work, as I said before hard work and dedication to the firm are not, in of themselves, inspiring. Rather the actions that you need to model are those connected to a set of values that you and the inspiree (to coin a phrase) agree on.  The trouble with a lot of the values that organizations have adopted, such as “commerciality,” or “excellence” are either not particularly inspiring or devoid of meaning or both.

In order to inspire as a role model you have to action the agreed values. To effectively do this there must be an agreement as to what behaviors indicate living the value. For example let us say that the firm decided that  “respect” was going to be one of its core values. This would be meaningless unless all the partners in the firm agreed what behaviors constituted respect. They might decide on “appropriately praising each other” or “not running down other partners to clients” or even “sharing knowledge and business opportunities.”

The partner who consistently adopted these behaviors would inspire others and in particular inspire younger partners and lawyers. The partner’s actions would be transmitted from the visual cortex to the striatum—the trust center of the brain. Interestingly this is the same part of the brain that makes decisions about relationships.

Inspiring through developing a supportive real or potential relationship with someone is the most obvious and the easiest form of inspiration.  Notice that I said “real or potential” relationship. We all have potential relationships and some of them are very important to us. TV characters are the most obvious, but politicians such as Obama can be masters at creating potential relationships. We “feel” we know the characters in the show in the same way that we may feel we know Obama even if we’ve never met either.

In essence both real and potential relationships work in the same way, and the driver in both is a desire on the part of the one being inspired to forge a deep connection with the one that inspires them.

The key to inspiring through relationship is the word “supportive.”

There are behaviors and ways of conversing which indicate that you are supportive and get the striatum really excited, and in our workshops we teach these in some detail. In an article such as this I can only mention a few of the more obvious ones:

Praise. Research by the Gallup Organization has shown that firms and corporations that have a culture of praise are about 20% more profitable than their non-praising cousins.  Praising a person for a job well done—even if it is just the one they’re paid to do everyday—makes them feel that you care, you notice and that you will support them. Interestingly when I ask people in workshops or talks all around the world how many of the attendees received praise over the past five working days I get surprisingly few affirmative responses.

Public recognition. This is not only a prime motivator, but a signal of support.

Looking for strengths. Lawyers, accountants and school teachers spend far too much time seeing what went wrong. It’s what they are trained to. The funny thing is that research has shown that the brain doesn’t learn that way. We learn, and we become inspired, by people noticing our strengths and what we did right. Catching people out for doing the right thing is another sign of support.

Listening. You inspire by listening to another person, by asking questions to show interest rather than giving advice.

Walking the talk. When you promise someone that you’ll do something for them, do it! That’s inspirational.

Towards an inspiring firm

Of course you can only really be inspiring if the context you operate in permits it. Here are a few questions that it might be worthwhile pondering:

  • Is there a culture within the organization which encourages praise or one that doesn’t?
  • Is it OK to talk of purpose and values or is making money and hard work the only things that matter?
  • Does the organization fulfil a recognizable social purpose?
  • Does the organization have a firm set of values and an agreed set of behaviors which demosnstrate those values?
  • Do senior people take the time to really get to know their reports: for example do they socialize with them? Is there regular coaching and mentoring? Are these seen as a chore or a pleasure?

If you can honestly give an affirmative answer to all of these questions then you have a context in which it is possible to be inspiring.

Read Part 1 of this series on how to inspire.