Photo credit (above): GerryJ10 | Flickr
Your ‘whys’ for the new year
An eventful year has drawn to a close; another year of learning and growth. As it should be of course, the only thing is, it’s never that optimistic when you are in the eye of the storm!
We had our national carrier losing two aircraft in unforeseeable circumstances, oil prices plummeting, and the rise of new terror in the Middle East. We even had mini tornadoes hitting the outskirts of Kedah.
What on earth has any of these to do with a leadership problem I hear you say? Everything, really.
These are what we would call “extenuating factors”.
It is consultant speak for “stuff we never anticipated but have thrown a spanner in the works therefore I hope you are stunned at my command of the language and won’t quite notice the additional billing I just sent in”.
The domino effect
Whatever spin we put on these near and faraway issues, it affects the economy. In one way or another.
When it affects the economy, it affects business. And when business is affected, your people are affected.
And so the most powerful lesson this year, both as far as internal growth as well as my reflections about our client organisations are concerned, is that the biggest difference in times of turmoil (good times are not as eventful so as to earn air time here!) is having the right people providing the right contribution in the right environment to steer you through it all.
But that’s a pretty tough place to be at in any given situation. The workforce is in constant flux, so how do you plan for a non-static workforce?
How do you ensure that the three interview sessions you have had with a potential “talent” has actually uncovered the right mixture of attitude and competence for the work that you have identified?
You can’t. That’s the short, direct answer. But what you CAN do, is to constantly check in on the progress of your talents and continuously fine-tune the environment to ensure people are able to function at their productive best.
That’s an external factor, which someone else can be in charge of. What about the factors that are within the individual’s control?
Well, first off, the individual has to ensure the right motivations are in place. And this also needs to constantly be fine-tuned.
People grow, mature and change, and personal motivations change and grow along with it. Ensuring the harmony of all these factors is what contributes to personal excellence and thereby having a productive employee in your team.
Personal excellence therefore starts from the individual.
What usually helps in the discovery process is to ask questions that cut to the chase and force us to be honest about our motivations like:
- Why are you here today?
- What do you expect to contribute, and in turn, gain from the endeavours?
- How will this work make a difference to you and those who are impacted by your work?
Why you do what you do
Simon Sinek, the author best known for popularising the concept of “The Golden Circle”, believes leadership, and thereby, personal excellence, emerges from understanding the “why” behind your work.
“People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it,” he is fond of saying.
And as he explains in his TED talk – you can watch it online, it’s free – the very way we think about our motivation isn’t quite right: “Every single person, every single organisation on the planet knows what they do, 100%.”
“Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP (unique selling proposition). But very, very few people or organisations know why they do what they do.
“And by ‘why’ I don’t mean ‘to make a profit’. That’s a result. It’s always a result. By ‘why’, I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”
Get those right, or at least aligned and you are on your way to ensuring excellence, both personal and work – which would lead to organisational excellence.
If you could do anything at all without having to worry about what others think – no need to worry about money, no need to worry about getting good grades – what would you do?
Play computer games all day? Okay but let’s analyse that a little bit. What exactly are you getting from that activity? You are good at it therefore you are beating everyone else, and that’s the exciting part.
Seen from another angle, you are improving your thought process and coordination. Does that excite you? That is helping your growth.
Or you want to solve the water irrigation problems in Africa. Or the traffic jam in Kuala Lumpur. Why would you want to do that?
In the end, most of us want to do something that makes a difference. And that feeling of making a difference is ultimately what’s most important for your own happiness and fulfillment. And that is what will enable us to continue to seek personal excellence.
In 1931, Gandhi was invited to speak to the British Parliament.
As Gandhi was one of the most vocal supporters of Indian independence, his visit was greeted with suspicion and caution by a parliament who strongly opposed Gandhi’s passion. The great leader stood with no notes and spoke for two hours.
He spoke eloquently and with passion, and when he finished, his audience stood and applauded as one. It was an extraordinary moment for a truly remarkable man.
Later, an English journalist asked one of Gandhi’s assistants how he was able to stand with no notes and speak so brilliantly for such a long time.
The assistant smiled and was quoted as saying, “You don’t understand Gandhi. You see, what he thinks is what he feels. What he feels is what he says. What he says is what he does.
“What Gandhi feels, what he thinks, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where magic happens. Finding the reason behind the actions for personal excellence is only one leg of it.
Ensuring it is infused with passion and purpose is the second part which completes the circle.
So for your leadership challenge of the day, go forth and ensure you have your motivation, purpose, and passion aligned to your current realities, that in turn will help you in seeking personal excellence! All the best for this year.
Vinesh Naidu is talent programme manager at Leaderonomics, helping to develop and accelerate talent in corporate organisations. Send in your comments in the comment box below.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 3 January 2015