Much conventional thinking is that your leadership is something you do to people, a magic set of motivation techniques that you can learn and will encourage people to give more, do more or achieve more than they would have without you. A lot of leadership is about discovering the right hot buttons that you can trigger in people, the right combination of either carrots or sticks to use.
Sometimes we even think of being a leader as a being savior. As leaders, we have all the answers, and now people can relax because now we have arrived and we are in charge. Many people call this “red cape” leadership; the leader being some kind of superman or superwoman.
A new era of leadership – leader as enabler
In my experience, the best leaders are, and always have been, more “servant-like,” than savior-like. They are inspired by enabling more of the leadership in others, rather than keeping them in their place. They are guided by, and curious about, the question: “How I can help and enable you to do your best work?” They know this isn’t always an easy question to answer, but it is one of the most powerful questions they can ask. It opens the door to our leadership being that of an “enabler.”
Great leadership is not just about motivating you, but about encouraging you to tune into the real you, supporting you in being true to yourself.
Great leadership is not just about motivating you, but about encouraging you to tune into the real you, supporting you in being true to yourself. It signifies a shift from “Leadership is a position and a set of techniques,” to “Leadership is my calling; I am endlessly curious how I can liberate the best work and talent in myself and others.” As a friend of mine, who is a BAFTA and Golden Globe winning TV producer, said to me recently: “If your leadership isn’t about enabling the best in people, what on earth is it about?”
Instead of demanding excellence, we enable brilliance. Inspiration exists to draw the best out of you. We help people willingly give their most powerful contributions. This is about helping people find what they are naturally gifted at and will gladly do, rather than figuring out to motivate them to do what they may not otherwise want to do.
Leading with love
Traditionally, so much leadership has been about playing to people’s fears. However, it is really about as a series of acts of love. One definition of love is “fostering the growth of another.” It is about power with people, not power over them. That doesn’t mean just being nice. Sometimes love can be tough and about setting clear boundaries. It can be about holding people to account, but its still love. Love is something we are all learning, so there aren’t always quick fixes, but the ongoing work of building trust, creating relationships, listening, creating emotional capital, understanding and coaching the people we lead and serve.
How you can be more of an enabling leader:
- Choose to lead inspiringly – see part of your leadership job description as “gardener,” in which you simply create the conditions and culture in which people can and will naturally blossom. Take a healthy pride in growing yourself and others.
- Understand the anatomy of inspiration – inspiration is an invitation to blossom. Like a sunflower seed is programmed to become a plant and then a flower, given the right nutrients, we can become of who we already are in embryo. Inspiration rather than motivation is one of the key nutrients of that growth.
- Shift your prevailing question – from “How can I get them to do what I want,” to “How I can enable them to do their best work?” This helps you shift into the energy of being in service to your clients and your colleagues rather than being in sales alone.
- Enable meaning – more people than ever are seeking meaning from their work and they’ll go to where they find it. Its not just about numbers and results but meaningful, emotional, and even spiritual engagement.
- Understand resistance – many people are afraid to take risks and step outside their comfort zones and will do a lot to avoid failing and looking stupid, so its important that you understand people’s “inner world’s.”
- Model being yourself –As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” so don’t just tell, show. Embody the way you would like them to be and show them what that looks like. People are listening louder to how you behave than what you say. The more you are willing to embody your strengths as well as your foibles and your fears and humanness, the more you unconsciously give your people permission to do the same.
- Become a connoisseur of talent – your own and other people’s by making your business an incubator, an environment where people flourish rather than be kept in their place. Be confident to surround yourself with bright and intelligent people who may be even better than you. Celebrate their talent and handle your own insecurities.
- See yourself as a coach and enabler – most people will not fulfil their potential on their own: they need your active engagement, support, encouragement and celebration of each small step of progress they make. This is really generous leadership.
Giving your best can trigger temporary vulnerability
Giving your best can put you in touch with your humanity, which we know often means some temporary fear and vulnerability. As an inspired leader, you do have to be a bit of a psychologist, to hear and understand the fear behind some people’s behavior, and allow people to feel safe and valued, and let them know it is OK to feel afraid sometimes. You are aware that often your best work is just on the other side of your fear, and you have to go through some fear to show up at your best.
When people feel safe to be vulnerable without being judged or punished, amazing things are likely to emerge.
Being an inspired leader usually means you are continually developing your self-awareness, enough to be familiar with your own vulnerabilities, so you are willing and able to compassionately coach people to deal with theirs. When people feel safe to be vulnerable without being judged or punished, amazing things are likely to emerge.
Inspiring the best in yourself and your people
More people than ever are looking for meaning, growth, fulfilment and achievement of their potential through their work. Being an enabling leader is one of the happiest and most fulfilling, and effective, ways to lead. You can’t beat virtuoso performances out of your people with a stick, and there may not be big enough sacks of carrots to induce them to give their best. But you may well be able to inspire people to willingly give of their best through your loving leadership.