Inspiration, not just perspiration, is what matters

Feb 08 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Super Tuesday may have left the Democratic race for the White House no less clear, but what has been apparent for some time is that it is the ability of Barak Obama to inspire the people around him that is key to the excitement surrounding his candidacy, and it is a lesson managers could do well to learn.

Research by British employer accreditation body Best Companies has suggested that to be a great manager you do not just need to be leading your employees, although that evidently helps, but inspiring them, too.

Leaders clearly need to be effective, reliable and trustworthy, but having an extra "wow" factor is a crucial part of the employee engagement mix.

What's more, while this inspiration can come from the top echelons of management, being inspired by your immediate manager can prove just as powerful, UK-based organisation behaviour change specialists ER Consultants has said.

The Best Companies research found employees in the top rated three-star organisations were much more likely to agree with the statement "I have a great deal of faith in the person leading this organisation".

In fact more than eight out of 10 employees in three-star organisations said "yes" to this, compared with just over half in non-accredited firms.

Engaging people is not a one-size-fits all process

Similarly, employees in three-star companies were much more likely to have confidence in the leadership skills of their senior management teams and to agree that "I am inspired by the person leading this organisation".

Three quarters of three-star organisation employees agreed with this sentiment, as opposed to 47 per cent of unaccredited firms.

But while this is all well and good, the difficulty for many employers is how to ensure this inspirational leadership is in place up and down the organisation, argued ER Consultants.

Leaders who fail to inspire their teams, who fail to give energy to the people they are leading, can act as draining influences, both on the business and the employee relationship, it has argued in the latest edition of its quarterly management journal Topics.

As chief executive Mark Goodridge explained: "Getting anything productive out of some people is simply like pulling teeth or getting blood out of a stone. That's exactly how one colleague felt when she came back to the office today, declaring that she had been 'steamrollered', and all her energy had been 'flattened by a bumptious, over-bearing dictator'."

The consultancy's Paolo Moscuzza has identified five key warnings signs for managers to check whether they are sapping the energy of their colleagues or team.

These are:

  • You wake up thinking of excuses to not speak with people
  • You feel a sense of envy as you notice people, who are normally nervous and reserved in your company, relaxed and interactive in the company of others
  • You put difficult conversations off, hoping nobody will notice there is a problem
  • Your direct reports hardly speak at meetings that you are chairing
  • You notice people seem happy to see you leave the room.

The key, said the firm, was to recognise that engaging people is not a one-size-fits all process.

Engagement requires an understanding of individuals at different levels, including what will trigger their emotional responses in the most positive way.

The Best Companies research found employees in three-star organisations were much more likely to agree that senior managers genuinely lived the values of their organisation.

Crucially, they were also much more likely to listen to workers rather than just telling, with seven out of 10 employees in three-star companies saying this, against four out of 10 in unaccredited firms.

There may be a cross-cultural element to all this, too, researchers at the International University of Monaco have suggested.

It has found in research examining what makes executives trust each other that certain nationalities are likely to be less trusting of counterparts with a different linguistic or cultural background than others.

American and Finnish executives, in particular, were more likely to trust potential business partners from the same linguistic and cultural background, while for Chinese and Chileans, sameness was not as important.

Its study of 700 business executives in 38 countries revealed strong correlations between trust and nationality for four key groups: Americans, Finns, Chinese and Chileans.

Among these, Americans and Finns were shown to be more comfortable entering into a business partnership with someone from the same linguistic and cultural background whereas linguistic and cultural sameness mattered less to the Chinese and Chileans.

Chinese executives, it concluded, were particularly sensitive to the possibility of being "taken advantage of".