“We relish news of our heroes, forgetting that we are extraordinary to somebody too.” — Helen Hayes
Demanding more from people doesn’t get very far. Doing more rah-rah pep talks doesn’t create lasting inspiration or change.
It fizzles out fast.
I remember an earlier manager of mine said we need an aspiring mission that lifts people and lights their fires. Something like “the relentless pursuit of excellence.”
You can create a community of powerful purpose by speaking to people’s hearts. People have been aroused to extraordinary accomplishment throughout the ages. You can only ask for more from people when you speak to things like their purpose, or destiny, or to virtues such as beauty, truth, love, service, wisdom, justice, freedom, and compassion.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares ideas on what it takes to rouse people to a cause and create a powerful community of inspiring purpose.
Too Much Exhortation, Too Little Purpose
You can’t command more initiative, creativity, and passion. You have to inspire it.
“Initiative, creativity, and passion are gifts. They are benefactions that employees choose, day by day and moment by moment, to give or withhold. They cannot be commanded. If you’re a CEO, you won’t get these gifts by exhorting people to work harder, or by ordering them to love their customers and kill their competitors.”
Ask, “What Would Bring Out Our Best?”
So much greatness starts with such simple questions.
“You’ll only elicit these capabilities when you start asking yourself and your colleagues: What kind of purpose would merit the best of everyone who works here? What lofty cause would inspire folks to give generously of their talents?”
Rah-Rah Pep Talks Don’t Work
Hot air, talking louder, or demanding more don’t last. Inspired causes do.
“Over the years, I’ve sat through a lot of rah-rah pep talks in big companies. I’ve seen CEOs pound the lectern, have had may eardrums pummeled by upbeat rock anthems, and have watched thousands of pumped up employees cheer and stomp. Trouble is, an adrenaline rush is transient. It can produce a thunderclap of emotion, but it can’t produce a long, nourishing rain or inspired contribution — that takes more than breathless exhortation, it takes a moral imperative. That imperative could be producing impossibly beautiful products — a goal which motivates many at Apple. It could be curing diseases that were once thought incurable — a mission that inspires the folks at Greentech. It could be harnessing the world’s wisdom and making it available to everyone, for nothing — the majestic notion behind Wikipedia.”
Inspiring Imperatives Must Grow Out of Mission, Possibility, or Outrage
You can inspire people in an authentic way with mission, purpose, or outrage.
“A moral imperative can’t be manufactured by speech writers or pinned up by consultants. It can’t be cobble together in a two-day off-site. Rather, it must grow out of some genuine sense of mission, possibility, or outrage. A moral imperative is not something one invents to wring more out of people. To be regarded as authentic, it must be an end, not a means.”
Discuss Purpose and Destiny
People are putting in their time. Time is all they’ve got. Make it matter. Make it worth it. Identify what matters and connect people to their cause.
“Think about the management processes in your company. How much time and priority do these rituals give to conversation around purpose and destiny? Not much, I warrant. Sit in on a typical management meeting — to discuss strategy, budgets, employees, or anything else — and not only will you observe a distinct lack of right-brain thinking, you’ll also hear virtually nothing that suggests the part particpants have hearts.“
Beauty. Truth. Love. Service. Wisdom. Justice. Freedom. Compassion.
People are capable of powerful things when we tap into our love of the timeless virtues.
“Beauty. Truth. Love. Service. Wisdom. Justice. Freedom. Compassion. These are the moral imperatives that have aroused human beings to extraordinary accomplishment down through the ages. It is sad, then, that the vernacular of management has so little room for these virtues. Put simply, you are unlikely to get bighearted contribution from your employees unless they feel they are working toward some goal that encompasses bighearted ideals.”
Ask, “What Purpose Truly Deserves Our Initiative, Imagination, and Passion”?
Weave purpose and principle into your daily fabric. You can do so by asking better questions that connect what you do to purpose, destiny, and passion.
“As a management innovator, you may not be in a position to single-handedly craft a sense of purpose for your company, but you can look for ways of weaving discussions of purpose and principle into the fabric of your company’s management conversations. For example, the next time you’re in a meeting and folks are discussing how to wring another increment of performance out of your workforce, you might ask: ‘To what end, and to whose benefit, are our employees being asked to give of themselves? Have we committed ourselves to a purpose that is truly deserving of their initiative, imagination, and passion?’”
Tap into purpose, destiny, and virtues to unleash what we’re capable of.
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