Inspiration is a leader’s most powerful weapon

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: December 30, 2016

As a customer-focused leader, you are in the inspiration business. The biggest part of your role is to mobilize people in your company to make a great customer experience happen. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just issuing orders to those around you. Your best bet is to inspire them. But how? (From my column).

Being a customer advocate can be hard as I’ve written before. Think about it. Your boss can say no to your ideas. Your colleagues can choose to ignore your opinion. Even your team can vote with their feet if they don’t agree with your direction (e.g. work half-heartedly or even leave).

All your customer ideas are worth nothing unless you get them executed in your company. Inspiration can be the key to success!

But how does one inspire? It’s actually quite straightforward. To inspire others, you have to be inspired yourself. It’s that simple. Let’s take a closer look.

Inspiration is often seen as a magical power that some people have and others don’t. Here’s the good news: you actually don’t need the grand ideas of a Henry Ford or a Mahatma Gandhi to inspire other people. You also don’t need the on-screen presence of a Matt Damon or a Meryl Streep. Inspiring others is much simpler than that—and you’re already doing it.

Try this. Think about a topic you don’t care much about—something boring at work, doing your tax return, whatever isn’t your thing. Then stand before a mirror. Imagine that your reflection is a colleague. For 30 seconds, talk to your colleague about that boring topic. Look closely at the reflected face as you speak. What do you see?

Next, think of a topic you genuinely care about—something that excites you, something you really like. Again, for 30 seconds, talk to your colleague in the mirror, but this time talk about the topic you care about. See a difference? I’m certain that your face will show more excitement. That liveliness behind your eyes is the flicker of inspiration. If you show others that flicker, they’ll be inspired, too.

It’s often the small things in your day-to-day behavior that inspire others—behaviur that you may take for granted. In leadership workshops, for example, marketers routinely discover that they already inspire others far more than they realize. And it’s often small and simple actions that most inspire when they read in their feedback “You make me laugh, even when it’s tough,” “You’re so committed to your team,” or “I love your passion for customers.”

Here’s how you can up your inspirational power:

1. Find Out How You Inspire People Today
Start by reading through feedback that you received at school or at work. How have you inspired in the past? To learn more, ask five to 10 people (friends and colleagues) how you inspire them. You want their honest opinions, so keep things as anonymous as you can. One option is to give people three white index cards and suggest they write down one way you inspire them on each card. Ask them to hand the cards back to you in a sealed envelope. Don’t track who wrote what, and open the envelopes only after you have them all back.

What did you learn? What are the one-to-three ways you inspire people today?

2. Double Up On Your Inspirational Behaviors
Even if you have the spark of inspiration, it takes energy to show the flicker in your eyes consistently, especially if you are leading change in your company. (See here for more ideas on how to lead change.) Some years ago, I led a large global team. Yet despite having major business success, the team wasn’t fired up with excitement. I soon realized that I needed to provide them with more spark. They always needed to see the flicker of my own inspiration, especially when things got busy. It seemed odd at first to try to set people alight with every interaction, but it did help me build inspired teams. How about reminding yourself of that, too? If you want to lead, set others alight with your inspiration in each interaction you have. Once you know how you inspire other people, double up on these behaviors.

Can you inspire people without being inspired yourself? Is there a work-around? No. Inspiration is easy to spot and tough to fake. Body language and facial expressions are so subtle and complex that even the most powerful computers can’t fully simulate them (yet). That’s why replacing humans in movies with digital look-alikes still doesn’t work. The flicker isn’t real. There’s no shortcut. The key to inspiring others is through your own inspiration.

So how about including this in your New Year’s resolution: “doubling up on my inspirational powers”?