“The force multiplier throughout history,” write Gallup research veterans Bruce J. Avolio and Fred Luthans, “has often been attributed to the leader's ability to generate hope."
Leaders are purveyors of hope. With the unease caused by the Great Recession, it is easy to spiral into a negative state of mind and ignore the promising signs that the worst of the panic is past.
Despite the economic pressures, says a recent editorial in The Vancouver Sun, “The U.S. is the richest nation on earth because it is the most innovative, the most creative and the most productive. It is the country millions of people living elsewhere want to move to -- and have.”
You may lead a large organization or a small business. But no matter the size, chances are you rely on others to achieve results. One of the minimum prerequisites for achieving positive results is giving people a sense of hope and optimism, and instilling confidence that things will work out.
As the leader, one of your chief responsibilities is to give people hope, to help them see that tomorrow can be better than today. This is not about ignoring the real challenges you may be facing; It's about deliberately choosing to align everyone around a single-purpose focus: how do we make the organization succeed and what is everyone's role in achieving this goal?
So how do you inspire yourself and others? Here are a few practical tips from some of the best thought-leaders in their fields:
1. Understand the bio-chemistry of gratitude. We have often heard the importance of counting your blessings rather than your burdens. Now we have scientific proof that practicing gratitude for what we have creates some beneficial biological changes such as a decrease in cortisol and stress levels and a more harmonious heart rate. Help yourself and your people by reminding everyone of all that you are grateful for. Gratitude is the quickest route to a positive attitude. It boosts energy and enthusiasm and it's a smart thing to do.
2. Assemble a personal library of material to inspire you. You cannot inspire others if you are not inspired yourself. Take care of your spiritual well-being by spending 10 or 15 minutes every day reading inspirational material.
This may be different for each person. Some may be inspired by daily quotations, others by reading biographies of successful people in their field or reading bio-adversities.
Yet others may derive inspiration from reading about innovations: An inspiring website for ideas on building a better tomorrow is The World Future Society. You might also be inspired by watching video clips from such diverse individuals as a little girl practicing positive affirmations or the moving final lecture of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 47.
3. Protect team members from negative people. Negativity is a communicable disease! We know that our brain is highly malleable and has the ability to reorganize itself every time we have new experiences. According to John Kounios, Drexel University Medical School Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, our neural connections change even after a twenty-minute conversation. This gives new meaning to the negative impact on performance that a conversation with a negative person can have. You know who these people are on the team. Take them aside and coach them.
4. Watch this video clip many times or read the articles. It is Tom Peters' 44 Strategies for dealing with the recession. Better still, send it to everyone in your organization.
5. Be a mirror for the positive attitudes you want others to adopt. As a leader, you are in a looking glass and people watch you for cues on which way the wind is blowing. We can learn a thing or two from leadership in the military. Imagine the effect on troop morale and energy that an overwhelmed, anxious, or discouraged leader would have? And how about a leader who is plagued by uncertainty? “Indecision,” as H.A. Hopf says, “is contagious. It transmits itself to others.”
6. Match your body language to your message. Are you aware of your habitual facial expressions? What is the non-verbal message you impart? While this may sound New-Age, consider the infectious nature of a sincere smile when you greet people every day. In a TIME magazine piece Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership, one of the attributes mentioned is that he had “a smile that was like the sun coming out on a cloudy day.”
7. Continue to remind people of the vision. Communicate in person, and often. If you are accustomed to leading via email, now is the time to be more visible than ever. Spend time to craft your message in a way that connects with people and inspires them. If you need some guidance in enhancing your ability to communicate with guts and heart, consider reading Terry Pearce's Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communications.
8. Pay particular attention to the people who are the direct link to customers. Are employees' own anxieties spilling over to customers and unwittingly eroding the customer experience? Help people understand their crucial role in customer retention. If you have eliminated training to save on costs, consider sending a strong message about the importance of creating and maintaining a strong customer service culture by bringing in training in that area.
As President Barack Obama recounted in his book The Audacity of Hope as well as in speeches as a presidential candidate, hope is “the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”
Hope opens our eyes to view the possibilities. It drives us to action. It sets a tone of vitality and inspiration for you and for others.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the president of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., a firm that specializes in emotional intelligence, leadership and presentation skills training. Her latest book, The Leader as a Mensch, explains how you can become the kind of person others want to follow.