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A Business Trainer from Oxford, United Kingdom
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The Power Of Inspiration
Every great action begins first as a thought
Everyone in business is looking for the next big idea. But where's it going to come from?
The answer is that in the beginning, all great success stories start with inspiration. Even projects, businesses or achievements that aren't that great originally start with some sort of inspirational thought even if the eventual outcome bears little resemblance to that original 'lightbulb' spark of creativity.
Of course, long-term success depends on much more than sheer inspiration. Thomas Edison maintained, " Genius is one percent inspiration, 99% perspiration," and he certainly had a point. Looked at the other way however, this just underlines the fact that when it comes to achieving outstanding results, 100% perspiration just ain't gonna do it, even though it seems to be the strategy of choice for many business leaders.
Inspired and inspiring leaders - working smarter not harder
So what's the secret of inspirational thinking and how can we all utilise it more effectively to ensure business success?
The first step is to understand your own role as a business leader and to examine the role of inspiration in 'leadership' - arguably the most overused and misused word in twenty-first century management parlance.
As 'leaders', business owners and managers are expected to be visionary, charismatic, and inspiring. However, this implies two essential preconditions:
• Leaders need to be able to tap into their own sources of inspiration and motivation regularly and easily in order to generate and replenish the energy they need to inspire others.
• Leaders can only be effective if they have the cooperation of a group of people who are willing and prepared to be led.
What this means is that the leader's 'inspirational' focus needs to be on people management - inspiring their 'team' (which means every employee and supplier at every level under their control) to give of their best and commit to putting the needs of the group before their own.
What they don't need to do is to have an endless supply of inspiring new ideas. They have a whole team of people underneath them who can do just that. Unfortunately many business leaders seem to overlook this and see 'inspiration' - in every sense - as their sole responsibility. What a burden! No wonder they have no time to concentrate on inspiring their people and as a result, true 'leadership' is sadly lacking in many organisations.
Inspiring or motivating?
To understand the role of inspiration further it may be useful to look at the difference between inspiration and motivation - terms which are often used interchangeably even though they have very different meanings and functions.
Put simply, inspiration can best be thought of as leading, motivation as following. An example of how the two work together is that employees should feel motivated to get out of bed and go to work because they have been inspired by the idea of what their employer is striving to achieve. Nice thought, but it's pretty rare in reality - although wouldn't we all like it to be so?
Who is inspired - and by what?
Part of the problem with defining the role of 'inspiration' in the workplace is that many of us don't really recognize what it is and wouldn't know what to do with it if it did come knocking. For a start, 'inspiration' has at least three different guises:
• Being something different:
This is the entrepreneur who has an inspired and revolutionary business idea and sets up a company (or new division of an existing company) to produce or deliver something truly different in a way that's never been done before.
• Doing something different:
In existing businesses there is the role of the creative 'light-bulb' moment of inspiration, 'thinking outside the box' and having a new idea (which can be experienced by any employee at any level) which can lead to dramatic improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and profitability of an existing process.
• Feeling something different:
There can be an entire cultural approach and ethos within a business, a way of operating which involves continuous development and motivating others to change. At all levels, there's a feeling of being inspired by exceptional leadership that can significantly affect motivation and enable people to see what they and others do through different eyes.
All are equally important but regrettably the significance of 'inspiration' in the development process of many organisations is often largely ignored. Should it occur, it is often paid scant attention and measured solely against pre-conceived ideas of what it will generate in terms of immediate bottom line results.
High performance and human happiness
There's no getting round the fact that inspiration is necessary for high performance in business and for human happiness. However it can't simply be summoned up with a click of the fingers. It needs the right conditions in which to thrive - those being found in two equally important and complementary channels:
Inspired leadership. 'Keep your fears to yourself but share your inspiration with others' said Robert Louis Stevenson and it's true that although leaders need to choose carefully the topics for open communication, they need to make sure they regularly share their vision and its outcomes with others in order to keep them motivated and enthused.
Inspiration can be at its most effective in leadership. In The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For, 'Inspired Leadership' is held to be one of the most important aspects of what employees perceive to be an enjoyable and productive workplace. Crucially, employees don't just rate it as a characteristic of value in its own right, but for what it could help them to do - be more creative, responsible, energetic and flexible.
Creating the right ethos/conditions for inspiration to thrive. Companies and leaders need to actively maintain a culture in which the pursuit of inspiration is encouraged and a management system in which inspirational ideas about anything by people at any level are taken seriously, implemented where possible, and suitably rewarded.
The prerogative of a few
As mentioned earlier, in many organisations 'inspiration' in terms of doing is often limited to or 'owned' by senior management. They alone are allowed the luxury of having any inspirational ideas taken seriously or put into practice. For the rest, change (which is usually involved) is perceived as too risky and underlings with a good idea are often patted on the head and told, "We'll think about it." Truly a case of the 'not invented here' syndrome and highly de-motivating for those concerned who are probably closely involved with the process or work to which their inspirational idea(s) relate. .
In the majority of businesses, suggestion schemes either don't exist or 'don't work'. Yet, research shows that some of the greatest improvements to product design, process, systems and procedures have been as a result of a moment of inspiration experienced by someone other than a senior manager.
To go back to Thomas Edison's quotation, too many people spend 100% of their working life at the 'perspiration' coal face, without actually stopping to think 'Is there a better way to do this?' Bearing in mind that many businesses don't operate within a formal system of continuous improvement to their work processes, it is often the case that systems and procedures have, like Topsy, 'just grown' and originally may well have been designed by someone who wasn't an expert or at a time that is now history. Yet those processes and activities continue to be implemented because of fear of upheaval and the perceived risk associated with doing things differently.
Often newcomers to a company, if they have the freedom to do so, can come up with some astonishingly creative and inspirational ideas simply because they do not yet carry the baggage of 'the way we do things' and don't know enough about the personalities and culture of the organization to realise ' No point suggesting it - so and so would never agree'.
Structuring and managing for inspiration
In business inspiration can play a huge part in improved efficiency, effectiveness, overall fulfilment, differentiation and growth, both at a individual level and across the business as a whole. Another frequently quoted mantra, "Work smarter, not harder", is completely true - yet the culture of many businesses seems dedicated to doing just the opposite.
Businesses need to build 'inspiration' into their management structure. One reason that coaching in the workplace is proving so effective is that it can provide an arena for inspired thought. By enabling individuals and groups to focus on issues and problems, set goals, question what they want to achieve and accept responsibility for that achievement, they are able to generate incredibly effective, inspirational and motivational outcomes.
Brainstorming sessions and mind-mapping, coaching circles and mentoring can all be highly effective in generating new and improved ways of working, which crucially will have ownership and buy-in from those most likely to be affected. Essential ingredients for successful inspiration here, include:
• Focus - what exactly is the issue or problem?
• Freedom - to try something new - ideally as a closely monitored pilot
• Facilitation - someone to bring together all the essential ingredients and make the process happen
The most successful organisations, whatever their size, have shared values. Many individually-held values are the result of being inspired in the past by someone who demonstrated that value, for example, hard work, honesty, sharing, and kindness. Even if we didn't have a light bulb moment, many of us can recall people and incidents that had a profound and long-lasting impact on our current behaviour.
Leaders need to be clear about their own values and how these are reflected in the organisation and people for which they are responsible. How closely are they aligned? Most important, they need to be know how, where and when they can top up their own 'fix' of inspiration about where they and their business are going and how they are going to get there.
It is essential that they do allow time and space for this - an over-stretched, burnt-out leader will never be inspirational. Often processes will need to be created to give the leader time to question and ponder - for sample, many find that a mentor or coach can be effective for creating an objective arena in which to reflect and plan.
The key to energy and passion
Most of us can think of someone in our lives who has inspired us to do something more than we otherwise would have done; whether a teacher who encouraged us to persevere with our studies; a colleague or friend who inspired us to step outside our comfort zone and do something different; or even just a story we read or heard about of someone who did something which motivated us to emulate them.
Inspiration is a factor that can move mountains and change the direction of entire lives. It creates an energy and enthusiasm which is hard to extinguish and which can keep us going through the most difficult and challenging times in order to reach our goal. Any leader who can truly inspire their employees to deliver of their best will have few problems with salary demands, staff retention, or internal strife. Inspired workers are passionate workers and passion is the greatest motivator human beings experience - every workplace needs more of it.
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