We may not be able to measure the intangibles of having an inspiring leader, but we can certainly feel the difference when we walk into an organization or a room where people are inspired and upbeat, or when we walk into a space where the leader is toxic, critical, uninspired. Inspiration is an energy that grows and spreads quickly. So is toxicity. If, as leaders, we aspire to inspire with our words and actions, we create a path others want to follow. When we try to force high performance with exacting schedules and punishing words, people look for the exit, yet many still lead in this fashion. 

“He saw a tiny sprout of potential in me before I knew it was there and nurtured it into full blossom.”

When an employee leaves a position because of a manager or boss that is detracting from their experience of work, it costs everyone. Recruiting and training a replacement is expensive in monetary terms (up to 200% of their annual salary plus benefits). The cost of disengaged workers is even greater in emotional terms: depression, loss of motivation, hopelessness, even suicide. 

Leaders don’t set out to be the saboteurs of others’ happiness or team performance. Many who are promoted into management haven’t had good examples to follow or robust training on leading well. As we begin the new year, it seems an appropriate time to recalibrate the way we approach building a leadership legacy that inspires others to be great leaders. 

Although the economic impact is the most familiar measuring device in corporate boardrooms, the impact we have on those we lead has more far-reaching impact than a higher dollar figure on the bottom line. If leaders’ top priority is to inspire and grow other capable leaders, you might recognize them best by what their reports have to say about them. You might hear statements like these: 

“She inspired me to play a better game and be true to my highest ideals.”

“He encouraged me through the rough patches.”

“She provided just the right measure of opportunities to stretch balanced with enough support to succeed.”

“He saw a tiny sprout of potential in me before I knew it was there and nurtured it into full blossom.”

“She taught me how to think bigger about the strengths I bring to the team and how to collaborate to minimize my weaker areas.”

“He demonstrated the power of forgiveness to all of us. He wasn’t afraid to be wrong.”

“Her acknowledgment of my accomplishments fueled my confidence to take on bigger challenges.”

“He taught me to ask different questions…the ones that expand what’s possible.”

“Under her leadership, I learned to risk failure which led me to far greater rewards.”

In a culture that is obsessed with weakness fixing, it takes determination, focus and a bit of retraining to look more to each person’s strengths and how to best utilize them. The payoff is that as we do that across the organization, everyone gets better at leveraging strengths and tying actions back to purpose at work and at home. This creates a positive wave or ripple that extends into the community, through friends and family, which translates to a world that works better for all of us.

The engagement puzzle has been around for awhile, yet we now know many ways to keep employees happy and engaged. Don’t wait for exit interviews to find out what keeps people coming back; ask them now. Ask questions like:

  • What are the best and worst parts of your current role?
  • How might we make your role more engaging using more of your natural talents and strengths?
  • Where would you like to grow next?
  • What do you want to learn this year?
  • What would make this work an even better fit for your priorities in work and life?

Then you can get creative about crafting changes that create a win for the company, the employee and the team.  

Let us begin to measure leadership success by how many we inspire to greater performance and joy. 

Teri Johnson is the founding partner for Personal Best Partners, a company that helps business and civic leaders build teams that perform at their fullest potential.

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