As we finish off the final accounting on 2011 it’s a useful exercise to reflect on the past year and how we actually performed against the goals we set out at the beginning of last year. I believe you start by being honest with yourself about whether hit your goals or you didn’t. There should be no wriggle room or rationalizations. Progress is certainly good, but it is no substitute for achievement. Too often in business and life we accept less than stellar results.
As we approach another Labor Day it’s actually depressing how many people dread going to work. I’ve ready many different statistics some saying as much as 90% of people are unhappy with their job. Since we spend a significant part of our adult life working, this means that most people will spend a good deal of time unhappy or uninspired in their career. I have a hard time getting my head wrapped around this issue. Why would either party to the relationship accept this reality? I guess that is why individuals change jobs so frequently these days. They are searching for something the data says they have little chance of ever finding.
We are in the midst of a fairly active and important election season in my local area. Many critical positions are up for grabs which is clearly illustrated by the large number of individuals who have thrown their hat in the ring. I am sure there are varying motivations by the candidates as to why they are running. Personally, I try to give them all the benefit of the doubt that their primary motivation is to make a positive difference. I don’t expect to agree with every candidate, but I do expect them to have the courage of their convictions. Having studied leadership and politics for quite a long time now, the following characteristics emerge as indicative of whether or not someone will be effective once they assume office:
One of the interesting things I find with high performing people is that they are usually harder on themselves than anyone else could be. Sure there are some exceptions – leaders who just self-confidence, but this is rarer than you think. There is usually something that drives an individual to excel. You hope the motivation is a positive one; however this isn’t always the case. I still remember one of my top clients saying several years ago that fear of failure is a good motivator and he didn’t know what he would do if ever actually embraced and enjoyed his success. I found this to be sad and he couldn’t understand why.
If a leader isn’t properly motivated then it will eventually trickle down throughout the organization. We all look to our leaders for both inspiration and direction. Every organization has to maintain a certain edge in this regard and must continually fight complacency. It’s hard to stay on top. You must never accept the status quo or rest on your laurels. High performing leaders are never just going through the motions. They show up to work every day with a sense of purpose and responsibility to do what’s needed and what’s right. They don’t need other people or external factors to force them into action. They are self-motivated to build the best possible organization they can.
People are motivated by all types of things and leaders are no different. There are always a few major drivers in an individual’s life that prompt action and focus our activities. Many of these motivators are formed in childhood or young adulthood. They can be good or bad or some degree of both. My personal contention is that living at the far end of any motivational continuum isn’t too healthy. I also believe that what drives you also has a big impact on the formation of your character and your values. We do tend to embody our priorities over time.
Leadership can be a delicate balancing act. You want to push your people to achieve high performance and exceed what they thought was possible, while also appreciating that you hire employees and people show up with all of their human needs for understanding and support. If you push too hard they resent you and find you harsh and uncaring. If you don’t push hard enough then you enable mediocrity and stunt their growth. It’s not always easy to know where the line exists.
One of the biggest dangers to success is comfort. I see it all the time. On the way up, people have an edge. They push themselves towards goals achievement. Obstacles are seen as inconveniences that simply need to be overcome. Motivation is never an issue. Energy seems boundless. Leadership focus is laser-like and distractions are managed accordingly. Then success happens and it all changes…
We all need to be inspired every once in awhile. Leaders especially need to find sources of inspiration because the very nature of their role is to inspire others. There are many ways to trigger inspiration but you must always find it within yourself.
The objective of a leader, especially a public figure, should be to bring people together and foster a dialogue that strives to bridge our differences and find areas agreement. The end result should be to tap into the greater good rather than pursuing a Win-Lose agenda.