Although it’s nice, you don’t have to lavish people with cash awards, gifts or stock options to energize and inspire them to their full potential. It’s more a matter of making them feel twelve feet tall.
This, according to Jack Welch, retired chairman and CEO of General Electric, is how you build self-confidence in the people around you. Self-confidence–inspired by you–is what Welch, as well as other extraordinary leaders believe is what it takes to get peak performance from others, say authors David H. Maister and Patrick J. McKenna in First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals (Free Press.)
How do you get to be so inspiring? Take music conductor and teacher, Benjamin Zander. When he realized that as the conductor he doesn’t make a sound and that his power depended on his ability to make other people powerful, everything changed. “I started paying attention to how I was enabling my musicians to be the best performers they could be,” he says in the book.
To do that, Zander makes an announcement to his music students on the first day of class: “‘Everybody gets an A.’ The condition is students have to submit a letter, written on the first day but dated the following May, that begins: ‘Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A becauseÖ'”
Students have to tell him who they will have become by the end of the course to justify the grade. “That simple A changes everything,” he says. “It transforms my relationship with everybody in the room. We can choose to give out grades as an expectation to live up to, and then we can reassess them according to performance. Or we can offer grades as a possibility to live into. The second approach is much more powerful.”
How does he know if the approach is working? He looks in his musician’s eyes, he says. “If the eyes are shining, then I know that my leadership is working. “If the eyes aren’t shining, I ask myself, ‘What am I doing that’s keeping my musicians’ eyes from shining?'”
Likewise, to help people perform at their best, you can ask: Who and what will you have become by the end of the year? And, if, during the year, you sense they are not performing their best-and see their eyes aren’t shining-you need to ask yourself: What am I doing that’s keeping their eyes from shining?
This approach, of course, requires you to spend time building and nurturing a relationship with people. This takes place through conversations, which can advance, diminish or leave your relationship neutral with that person, says Pete Friedes, retired CEO of Hewitt Associates, in the book.
So every time you talk to someone, you must ask yourself two questions:
1. Did I deal successfully with the matter at hand?
2. What did I just do to my relationship with that person?
Besides specific conversations, to inspire someone and advance the relationship you also need to consider doing these things:
Show genuine interest in what each person in your group or team wants to achieve with their careers.
Show interest in the things that mean the most to people in their personal lives.
Be there for people in times of personal or professional crisis.
Do an informal check-in with each person ever so often.
Offer to help someone when they clearly need it.
Inspiration, as the authors say, comes from within. Your job is to create a climate which invites it.