Is Inspiration Enough?

obstacleI spent three days this week teaching rising ninth graders the Junior Achievement Success Skills curriculum.  Four 90 minute classes, for three days, seven lessons each.  I was so tired.

They told me these were “at risk” kids, but silly me…I figured I could handle it and actually, I did pretty good, if I do say so myself.  Much of the curriculum was confusing for these kids and after trying a couple “exercises” that bombed, the teacher and I found a couple videos that illustrated key learning points.

One of the videos was a motivational video the teacher liked, and thought would be well received.  The speaker was Eric Thomas, self-titled “the hip-hop preacher.”  For about 30 minutes he talked about what it takes to be successful.  This gentleman had pulled himself up from homelessness, and now is a success on the inspirational speaking circuit.  He speaks forcefully about personal accountability and his histrionics demand attention.

The kids did indeed enjoy the video; at least they seemed attentive.  But I couldn’t help but wonder what those kids will do with the information.  Sure, they may have been motivated at the time, but then reality kicks in and everything falls back in place.

I think it is that way in organizations as well.  We go to conferences, seminars, and even bring in “experts” to address our leadership team.  But when the conference is over and the expert leaves, nothing has really changed.  Motivational speakers don’t really provide unique and amazing information – nothing is rocket science.  Good motivational speakers provide you with a personal story that demonstrates actions and behaviors we already know, and tell you how they overcame the barriers.  You leave feeling empowered and ready to face your own obstacles.

Then you go back to work and the obstacles are waiting for you, along with all of the work you couldn’t do while you were away and you are swept back into the same old, same old.

As leaders, we want to motivate our teams; to energize them into high productivity and innovation.  The reality is that the obstacles that are in the way are real; if they were easily overcome, change would have already happened.

So I would suggest that a key task for leaders is to find and deal with obstacles that keep their team from top performance.  So far as I know, there’s only one good way to do that – ask them.  Engage them in dialogue about what “could be” and get them excited.  Find out what stands in the way of achieving it, and remove the obstacles if you can.  If the obstacle can’t be removed, get the team to help figure out how to get around it.  Finding the solution will do far more for inspiration and engagement than listening to someone talk about how they overcame obstacles.  Doing something is way more rewarding than listening to another person’s story.

Like the kids who are struggling in school, they go back to the same environment and the lessons of the day are easily lost.  Maybe a few hear it and get it, but most probably don’t.

As a leader, doesn’t it make sense to up the odds for success by overcoming real obstacles?

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