Leadership Is About Emotion

Make a list of the 5 leaders you most admire. They can be from business, social media, politics, technology, the sciences, any field. Now ask yourself why you admire them. The chances are high that your admiration is based on more than their accomplishments, impressive as those may be. I’ll bet that everyone on your list reaches you on an emotional level.

This ability to reach people in a way that transcends the intellectual and rational is the mark of a great leader. They all have it. They inspire us. It’s a simple as that. And when we’re inspired we tap into our best selves and deliver amazing work.

So, can this ability to touch and inspire people be learned? No and yes. The truth is that not everyone can lead, and there is no substitute for natural talent. Honestly, I’m more convinced of this now – I’m in reality about the world of work and employee engagement. But for those who fall somewhat short of being a natural born star (which is pretty much MANY of us), leadership skills can be acquired, honed and perfected. And when this happens your chances of engaging your talent increases from the time they walk into your culture.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s Take A Look At Tools That Allow For Talent To Shine:

Emotional intelligence. Great leaders understand empathy, and have the ability to read people’s (sometimes unconscious, often unstated) needs and desires. This allows them to speak to these needs and, when at all possible, to fulfill them. When people feel they are understood and empathized something, they respond PERIOD and a bond is formed.

Continuous learning. Show me a know-it-all and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t have a clue about being human. Curiosity and an insatiable desire to always do better is the mark of a great leader. They are rarely satisfied with the status quo, and welcome new knowledge and fresh (even if challenging) input. It’s all about investing in yourself.

Contextualize. Great leaders respond to each challenge with a fresh eye. They know that what worked in one situation may be useless in another. Before you act, make sure you understand the specifics of the situation and tailor your actions accordingly.

Let Go. Too many people think leadership is about control. In fact, great leaders inspire and then get out of the way. They know that talented people don’t need or want hovering managers. Leadership is about influence, guidance, and support, not control. Look for ways to do your job and then get out of the way so that people can do theirs.

Honesty.  Not a week goes by that we don’t hear about a so-called leader losing credibility because he or she was dishonest. Often this is because of pressure to try and “measure up” and it’s not coming from a place of being real – often this relates to fear of not being accepted for your true self. We live in age of extraordinary transparency, which is reason enough to always be true to your core – your mission will be revealed, your motivations will show by your behaviors. But it goes way beyond this. It’s an issue that sets an example and elevates an organization. If you have a reputation for honesty, it will be a lot easier to deliver bad news and face tough challenges. Are you inspiring people from your heart? 

Kindness and respect. Nice leaders (people) don’t finish last. They finish first again and again. Ignorance and arrogance are leadership killers. They’re also a mark of insecurity. Treating everyone with a basic level respect is an absolute must trait of leadership. And kindness is the gift that keeps on giving back. Of course, there will be people who prove they don’t deserve respect and they must be dealt with. But that job will be made much easier, and will have far less impact on your organization, if you have a reputation for kindness, honesty and respect.

Collaboration. People’s jobs and careers are integral to their lives. The more your organization can make them a partner, the more they will deliver amazing results. This means, to the greatest extent possible, communicating your organization’s strategies, goals and challenges. This builds buy-in, and again is a mark of respect. People won’t be blindsided (which is a workplace culture killer) by setbacks if they’re in the loop.

Partner with your people. As I said above, people’s careers are a big part of their lives. That seems like a no-brainer, but leaders should have it front and center at all times. Find out what your employees’ career goals are and then do everything you can to help them reach them. Even if it means they will eventually leave your organization. You will gain happy, productive employees who will work with passion and commitment, and tout your company far and wide. This an opportunity to brand your greatness.

Leadership is both an art and a science. These tools are guidelines, not rigid rules. Everyone has to develop his or her own individual leadership style. Make these tools a part of your arsenal and use them well as you strive to reach people on an emotional level. Be Human. This Matters.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 12/15/13

Does What You Do Inspire You

I’ve spent the last couple of days at Dreamforce. It’s an astounding event, but for me, participating in Dreamforce has taken a big shift. I find myself spending more time meeting with people in one on one’s than attending the sessions in the event.

This year, I noticed a shift in the conversations I had with many people. A few had recently made major job and career shifts. A few were in the final stages of making major shifts in their careers. A couple had gone through great personal tragedies in their lives and shared their experiences. Most of the conversations were about their business, their current jobs, and changes they were trying to drive in their organizations and in their own personal abilities to achieve their goals–to have an impact.

Despite the variety of discussions–whether focused on themselves, their careers, and what was next; or their organizations, jobs, strategies, and what was next, I started noticing some patterns.

The people have the greatest success personally, professionally, and with their companies were Inspired!

What they were doing–whether it was driving a major shift in their companies, launching a new effort–whether a product, project, new program, new initiative, or even new company—what they were doing Inspired them!

I could see it in their eyes, in the intensity in which they expressed themselves, in their focus and purposefulness. I could feel in in their passion and energy. They inspired me, getting me caught up in their passion, their vision–whether it was to help them more effectively achieve it or even making me want to buy!

Some quick examples:

Breakfast with Lindsey–I had passing knowledge of her company, but wasn’t really excited. Then when she started talking about the impact their products/services had on people’s lives, how it changed individuals and corporations… All of a sudden I was learning and seeing things that I had never realized. Lindsey was inspired and inspiring. What was most striking is she didn’t talk about the company’s products and services but about the impact on customers and what they could achieve. After our conversation, my mind was racing–I was struck with ideas that could magnify what they were doing, and Lindsay inspired on some ideas for things I should be writing about and doing with this community. Lindsey was both Inspired and Inspiring.

Then I moved to a meeting with Vala. He had recently moved into a senior executive role with one of the giants in technology. He had a platform to change the way his company engaged it’s customers and how his company could transform the way their customers engaged their own customers. What was supposed to be a quick 15 minute meeting stretched into over an hour as he described what he could achieve and how he could drive both his company and their customers. His vision and that of the company’s top executives were totally aligned. His energy level, his passion, his focus on what’s next were just demonstrations of his being Inspired with this new opportunity.

There was the chance encounter with Greg, a long time client. He had been struggling with a major shift in his sales organization’s efforts. For months, he’d been looking at how to expand into a major new market opportunity that could more than double total company sales in the next 24 months. Over the past year he’d been struggling, experimenting, running up against resistance–more internal than external, and hitting a lot of brick walls. Then I see him at Dreamforce. He grabs me to say, “Dave, we figured it out!” He went on to share what they were doing and the early results–but the transformation in his demeanor, attitude and outlook. It was contagious, and the success he and his team were having was a result of being Inspired.

Then on to lunch with Pat. He’s EVP of Sales for a hot technology start up. Like Lindsey he was driven by what his company was doing to help their customer grow and achieve more. He was Inspired by the outcomes they created–which clearly was inspirational in every conversation he had with his people, partners and customers. Again, like Lindsey, he really didn’t talk about products.

There was Tom who was about to start a role as VP of Sales and Marketing for another hot start up, Jacco who had a vision to transform SaaS sales, Ford who is about to be CEO of an analytics company that can transform our understanding of how people buy and what triggers them to buy. There was Tim who had gone through a year of personal challenges with illness in his family, but in that had discovered some things that could transform how leaders engage their people. He was hot into building these into his consulting practice as well as writing a book.

It was fascinating, for some reason the start aligned at Dreamforce this year, and I had the opportunity to sit down and hear the stories, vision, and drive from Inspired people who, in turn Inspired me.

On the plane leaving Dreamforce, I reflected on my own career and things that I’d achieved. There have been roles/jobs where I’ve done well, but I wasn’t inspired. I remember one where I was one of the top executives in the company. We were hitting our numbers, achieving our goals–but I struggled. I wasn’t inspired. For some reason, our solutions didn’t excite me. Yes, they were good, they helped our customers achieve their goals, but because I wasn’t Inspired by what we were doing, I wasn’t achieving what I could—and I was holding everyone in the company back.

I contrast that with what I do today. In essence, I get to do my hobby every day! I’m privileged to work with some of the smartest people in the world, dealing with very tough problems and addressing huge opportunities. Working with these great people addressing these issues both inspires me and helps me be inspired in my work. It makes the long hours, the travel, everything fly by because what I do Inspires me so much—I can’t imagine anything else that’s more fun!

As I reflect on the thousands of leaders and sales people I encounter every year, it’s those that are Inspired that stand out. Even though they may be facing huge challenges, personally or business wise, just the fact that they are Inspired causes everyone else to be Inspired in turn. Being inspired cause us to do the work, however tough it is, to overcome obstacles, to engage others and to be engaged ourselves.

It’s hard to think of high performance in a leader or a sales person without associating the notion that they are Inspired.

Are you Inspired by what you do? If you aren’t, it’s probably unlikely you’ll achieve your goals. If you aren’t you can’t inspire those around you. If you aren’t work becomes—well work!

Surround yourself with people that inspire you. Make sure you find the Inspiration in what you do–if you can’t move on to something that does Inspire you. Absent this, you will not be a top performer, and you won’t inspire top performance in your team, organization, company, customers, or community.

Thanks to all who Inspired me at Dreamforce!

As an afterthought—don’t confuse “cheerleading,” or enthusiasm with being Inspired!

This post was first published on the Partners In Excellence blog on September 17, 2015.