Of all the places I visit in my work, Brazil has easily become my greatest source of great leadership stories.
This past Sunday I arrived in Sao Paolo for my fifth trip to Brazil in just three years. My past visits have coincided with incredible leadership stories. There were the massive protests of March 2016, and an ongoing political turmoil that has featured continued examples of corporate leaders going to jail for bad and unethical behavior.
In each of my previous trips, I used those current events to engage hundreds of business leaders about what it means to be a leader. I always came away inspired by their sense of hope they showed, even under trying political and economic conditions.
What is clear is that Brazilians have been looking for inspiration from their leaders and they are just not getting it. Maybe they are going to have to start looking for that inspiration in other places.
This thought came to me just hours after I arrived in the city. I was in the fitness centre of my hotel grabbing some time on the treadmill. As I looked out a large window right in front of me, I saw these large murals covering the walls of a building next to my hotel.
The murals consisted of images of some of the world’s most inspiring people: Malala Yousafzai, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, The 14th Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Albert Einstein. And they were not just rudimentary sketches; they were stunning works of art.
After my workout, I asked at the front desk about the murals. A young woman was very excited to tell me they were created by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra.
I went back to my room and started researching him and learning about his art.
There’s a great video on YouTube where Kobra talks about how he was born outside Sao Paolo, and always saw the city as a canvass for his art. If you’ve been to this sprawling city, you can get overwhelmed by all the concrete, the buildings, the cars and the noise.
It is in this environment that Kobra wanted to inspire others through his unique brand of street art. What you also learn about him is he hopes his art inspires people to better connect with each other and better respect our diversity and differences among cultures. Something he feels is in dire need in our world today.
His work has garnered global attention and he’s been invited to paint murals in seventeen cities around the world.
I kept thinking about the impact those murals had on me. In short, I was inspired.
This topic of inspiration keeps coming up in my discussions with leaders and employees. We are leading in a period of great change and even uncertainty. Employees look to their leaders to be inspired and confident in the future. Yet, when I talk to leaders, they are struggling at a personal level. Many aren’t inspired themselves. Which then begs the question: can an uninspired leader inspire the people that she or he is leading?
I think you know the answer. No!
That’s a real problem because the ability to inspire is a hallmark of a truly accountable leader.
My research has found the ability of a leader to be optimistic about the company and its future is key to driving inspiration and engagement of people.
Now, I’m not talking about over the top, rah-rah speeches. Sometimes people confuse that with inspiration. In my experience, most people see right through this approach.
I’m talking about a genuine optimism and enthusiasm that oozes out of your pores. This is what really inspires people.
This may be easier said than done.
You may find yourself in an organization and working with senior leaders who aren’t inspiring you. In turn, you find it hard to inspire others.
If you aspire to be an accountable leader, but work within an uninspiring organization, you need to find other sources of inspiration, wherever they may be.
As I thought about this from my own leadership roles, I started building a list of a few things I’ve done to ensure I was able to inspire the people I led.
The first is to acknowledge when you are not feeling particularly inspired yourself. At times we can let the stress, workload and company drama get the best of us. The moment you notice that this stuff is dragging you down and demotivating you, then you need to act and get above it all.
With this awareness in mind, you then need to act to re-inspire yourself.
When I need a recharge on my inspiration, I reach out to my clients. I find that learning about what they are working on, seeing how my ideas around leadership accountability are helping them excites me. It naturally motivates me to help them be even more and add more value to their organizations.
The other thing I do is meet with my colleagues (especially the younger team members). I get a huge sense of gratification learning about their goals, dreams and their unflinching confidence in the future. Once I am reminded of my obligation to help, it helps me get my mojo back in gear.
The final thing I do on a regular basis is to look outside my own area of expertise and find new ideas. There’s nothing like a new idea that sparks creativity and generates positive energy. Just like Eduardo Kobra’s street art did for me this week.
In today’s world, employees need their leaders to be inspiring, now more than ever. How are you sustaining your own personal inspiration, so you can inspire those you lead?
This week’s gut check for leaders asks: how do you stay inspired?
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©2019 Vince Molinaro (Leadership Contract Inc.)