Friday, February 11, 2011

Inspire Me

Whenever my colleagues and I bitch about how dysfunctional our work place is, we inevitably end up blaming it on a lack of leadership. It's not to say that we are blameless. But when it is so systemic in the public service, there's got to be a bigger reason then just laziness. Why are our managers failing to inspire us? Should it be their main priority? How do you even go about doing it?

A friend of mine says that it starts by showing people how their work makes a difference. You've got to draw a dotted line from their mundane tasks to the strategy and vision of the organization and you've got to instill in them a sense of pride in their contribution to the company's objectives. Here's a good case in point that he shared with me:
Back in the 60s, when the Kennedy administration was committed to putting the first man on the moon, the story goes that there were rumors of problems at NASA and that the people there weren't dedicated to the administration's vision. So President Kennedy hopped on Air Force One and headed to NASA for a personal visit. He wanted to reinforce his commitment. Before the meeting, he stopped into the restroom where a janitor was emptying the trash and puttering around. The President asked, "How are you?"The janitor replied, "I'm doing great. I'm putting a man on the moon."The President left the restroom, got back on Air Force One, and flew back to Washington. There was NO problem at NASA.1
The other thing leaders need to do is talk to us about WHY we are doing what we are doing rather than focus on WHAT we are doing. Leave the details to the middle managers. Just keep slamming the vision down our throats until we start to feel it too. And I'm not talking about lip service here -- it's got to be tangible and attainable. Instead, the vision becomes a corporate exercise that's undertaken every five years, engraved on a plaque and ignored.

The last thing we talked about was empowerment to effect change. I had a small taste of it this week and boy did it rock my world. For the first time in months I was engaged, fully charged, and productive! It's sad that we demean our employees by making them ask permission so often for non-important things. They don't trust us to make decisions that count and it's so sad that they don't realize how badly to erodes our confidence, abilities and in the long term, our productivity.

I'm learning a lot about what NOT to do during my tenure here. I just pray it hasn't ruined us. Maybe we can inspire ourselves and show our leaders the positive effects of their attempts to break the dysfunction? Or maybe we can just wait it out until it's our turn to lead.

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