New eras call for new ways of thinking about leadership, and 2017 is ushering in real change in the business world.
Boston Consulting Group recently published an ebook, Transformation: Delivering and Sustaining Breakthrough Performance. The book argues that companies must operate in a state of “always-on transformation,” ready to shift tactics at a moment’s notice.
In BCG’s view, transformation isn’t something that happens once every 10 years in response to a crisis. It’s the process by which leaders regularly improve their operating models, culture and business strategies.
This concept of constant transformation may seem daunting, but great leaders understand the power of this approach. Successful companies fail often, learn from their mistakes and pivot quickly. But even small transformations can create momentum. Yes, transformations are challenging and disheartening at times. But that’s where strong leadership comes into play.
When employees see executives and managers exhibit inspirational qualities, they have faith that even turbulent changes are for the best. I know, because I’ve witnessed this many times in my 20 years as a leader in the public relations industry. Despite making my share of mistakes, I’ve gained valuable insights from each of those mistakes and used that knowledge to strengthen my company.
We’ve won awards and been ranked as one of the top 10 fastest-growing PR firms in the world because we were willing to transform ourselves when the circumstances demanded it. Here are four lessons I’ve learned about what I call the inspirational factor:
1. When in doubt, ask, “Why not now?”
Too often, leaders hesitate to take risks because they fear negative outcomes. But businesses stagnate if their decision-makers refuse to reach higher.
Author, investor and keynote speaker Amy Jo Martin encourages executives to ask themselves, “Why not now?” when they’re reluctant to take action. Her podcast focuses on this question by encouraging leaders to break down their pessimistic assumptions and spur innovation. She’s spoken with business mogul Mark Cuban, #Girlboss Sophia Amoruso and visionary thinker Simon Sinek — among many others — to learn how they answered this “why not now?” crucial question and moved forward.
Leading with confidence can inspire people to achieve more than they ever dared. According to author and speaker Denis Waitley, the longer people remain complacent and fearful, the harder they find it to get out of their comfort zones. In short, no one levels up by continuing as they are.
The message here is that you should implement new strategies in 2017 to show employees that your company is moving forward boldly. Encourage them to do the same.
2. Focus on other people.
Capable entrepreneurs aren’t concerned with their own legacies. Instead, they emphasize their teams’ needs and look for ways to help their employees succeed. As Extreme Leadership Institute founder Steve Farber has said, “Your leadership is not about your position or title. It’s about who you are, how you live and your ability to influence others to change things for the better — at work and beyond.”
Farber explores that concept in his book Greater Than Yourself. He discusses the true goal of leaders — to build others up — and outlines three keys to achieving this: expanding yourself, giving of yourself and replicating yourself.
It’s one of the most engaging leadership books I’ve read because it’s broken down into parables that detail Farber’s own experiences with people who brought this concept to life. One quote really stuck with me: “The real payoff comes in the giving of knowledge, not the keeping of it. If I’m going to make you greater, I have to give freely of not only my knowledge, but all my resources: my connections and network, my experience, my insights, my advice and counsel — even my time.”
When training your team members, then, don’t lecture them on your own experiences and best practices. Instead, learn who they are, where they excel and where they need assistance. According to Gallup, people are inspired by leaders who demonstrate a sincere interest and commitment in supporting them.
Once you’ve gained context for those team members’ present circumstances, ask, “What can I do for you?” This simple question can convince people that you are on their side and want to work with them. Empathetic leadership is critical to building inspired, motivated teams, so talk with your employees and find out their concerns and needs.
As Farber says, “Expand yourself, give yourself and, finally, replicate yourself by teaching others to do exactly what you’ve done for them.”
3. Invest in clients’ passions.
At its core, business is about building and maintaining relationships. Yet Gallup found that less than a third of B2B customers it surveyed said that they were engaged. Boosting those numbers is an uphill battle for businesses that want to bring in more customers and those they already have. For me, the solution has always been to stay passionate about your clients’ businesses.
My team and I have climbed oil rigs, walked the aisles of retail stores and done whatever we can to immerse ourselves in clients’ businesses. The result? They believe that we care about their success, and they trust that we’re giving them our best. We’ve had clients tell us that seeing us get excited about their work makes them feel good, which is critical to developing good relationships.
I tell my team, “Love it like they do.” Not only does cultivating passion for clients’ work generate goodwill, it also helps us avoid giving unwise recommendations. Because we care as much about their businesses as they do, our strategies are almost always on target.
4. Lead with authenticity.
Many executives feel they must be tough and have all the answers. And, as a young professional, I believed that, too. But, I struggled because I didn’t see myself as a hard-as-nails executive who never made mistakes. Fortunately, I’ve realized that authenticity resonates with people more than pretending to have achieved perfection. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, honesty and compassion are rated as some of the most crucial leadership traits.
Related: 10 Qualities of Authentic People
The message here is that entrepreneurs and executives who embrace their unique leadership styles are more effective than those who try to do everything “right.” Authentic leaders are holistic champions who honor their values, trust their intuitions, build substantial relationships and act with integrity.
Inspiring people is the most challenging and rewarding task entrepreneurs face. It’s also key to meeting the growing demand for “always-on transformation.” When employees and clients are inspired by a company’s leaders, they’re willing to follow them into uncertainty, no matter what lies ahead.