Five grueling years of high unemployment, sluggish consumer confidence, declining home values and rising prices have taken their toll on workers and business owners. The economy may be technically in recovery, but employees and employers alike are feeling "burned out."
The solution lies in getting people engaged, motivated and passionate about their work. But trying to do so with a worn-down spirit and a kit of blunt leadership tools is a bit like fueling a rocket ship with tepid bath water, according to Mohan Nair, author of Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome and chief innovation officer of a health plan in the northwest/mountain region.
"The old ways of leadership, the old rules, might as well be hieroglyphics on a cave wall," said Nair. "Since our brave new world is dominated by 'unknown unknowns' - and powered by serving rather than winning - organizations have to change the way they lead their people.
"The future belongs to those that have the mojo not just to withstand change but to actually create change in their favor - and hopefully in a direction that’s good for others," he added. "That requires a business model in which there simply are no sharply defined leaders and followers."
So let’s say you recognize the need to transform your organization. How do you break the self-destructive cycle and change the unhealthy employer/employee dynamic that is crippling many businesses? Quite simply, you start by transforming yourself. Nair offered the following tips for rejuvenating your organization.
1) Admit you have a mojo dysfunction. Your business has been operating in survival mode for a while now, and that’s not good for anyone. But before you can reignite others, you must reignite yourself.
“Sure, it can be hard and scary and exhausting to realize everything you’ve built your leadership legacy on is wrong,” explained Nair. “It’s a lot easier, in the short term anyway, to go on pretending nothing has changed. But once you find the courage to face the truth, you take the first step toward a new paradigm that’s so much better for all concerned.”
2) Realize that you, personally, have to change. Business transformation begins with personal transformation. Recycling your usual skills only recycles your past. Only by recharging your leadership — getting back to your basic beliefs and rediscovering your passion in light of a new reality — can you transform yourself and your business.
“Seeing the world as existing to serve you is obsolete,” said Nair. “It’s not about you anymore; it’s about others you serve. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and other social reformers had it right: They did not start out to be social reformers; they just wanted to make things right. They started with themselves, then their neighborhood, and then the world.
“So, mojo starts with you,” he added. “You can change any circumstance if you change your view of the situation.”
3) Accentuate your competencies. Acknowledge to yourself and to others what you’re good at -- and not so good at. (Don’t be bashful: Vulnerability helps people connect to you and makes you a better leader.) But this is only a starting point. To be a great leader, you need to know what you’re great at. This is the skill set around which you will package yourself inside your organization.
“Think competence, not capacity,” advised Nair. “Being capable of performing is not enough. That will seldom give you the advantage you need to spark real change. Finding your competency is more about the recipe than the ingredients. Think of yourself as an artist, not a painter; an author, not a writer; a composer, not a musician.”
4) Now, translate those competencies into value. Ask yourself: How can I put my competencies to work inside my organization? How can I use them to provide value differently to a transformed world? Great leaders can put value into any object, noted Nair. We see hints of this when we hold onto a simple object because it reminds us of someone or some event. A rose? A pen? A lucky outfit you wear on special days?
“Mother Teresa’s value was compassion for children,” noted Nair. “That was her brand. What do others feel when they hear your name? Once you figure out all the ways you provide value to your organization, your organization will be able to share that value with its customers.
“It may be that your value requires you to move into a new part of the organization,” he said. “That’s okay. Many people find that they are in the right organization but in the wrong area to maximize their best selves. Be open-minded about where you belong and can do the most good.”
5) Create a solid platform for work. The skeleton of your platform was constructed a long time ago. It is made up of your skills, your experience, the knowledge that defines you. But are there missing planks? Knowing what you want to do, where are the holes that will hinder your ability to execute? To innovate? Figure out how to fill in the holes with new skills, new experiences, new knowledge. Do this now. Make it a priority.
“A new role inside your organization is not merely a place to land. It is the next step of your evolution as a leader. Think about it this way as you make your decisions.”
6) Awaken your cause. Find the one thing inside your organization that you feel most passionate about. Maybe it’s customer service. Maybe it’s mentoring. Maybe it’s innovation. Whatever your cause may be, make it your mantra. Let it drive everything you do. Mojo begins and ends with your realized purpose.
“Cause is so much more powerful than mission,” explained Nair. “Causes are realized while missions are given. Causes transform while missions inform. Causes start with an individual. Leadership mojo is unstoppable if powered by a cause.”
7) Commit to servant leadership. Gandhi was not capable of being a good lawyer, Nair pointed out. Eventually, he realized he was at his best when he was serving others. It was his power source. It can be yours, too. Being successful in business today means bringing back your leadership mojo in a different way — not based on ego, but in service to a higher order.
8) Find and leverage momentum. This is where mojo finds its true fulfillment (not to mention financial reward). What is momentum? Nair described it as the force of an idea and the acceleration you give to take hold of a market. The Pet Rock from the 1970s represents speed, which is just force applied to an idea. On the other hand, the iPhone represents momentum: It’s something people needed and wanted without realizing they needed and wanted it. Starbucks and Disney operate in the same fashion: The former filled the need for coffee communities; the latter filled the need for a business model based on happiness.
“If you think about it, leveraging momentum is the pinnacle of servant leadership,” he added. “You’re so tuned into your customers that you know them better than they know themselves.”
“We live in exciting times,” concluded Nair. “What a wonderful privilege to live and work in an age where the marketplace rewards the best of humanity — our desire to create, to innovate, to take risks and fly without a net, to serve the needs of others. We leaders have the opportunity to make a living by realizing our higher selves and bringing out the higher selves of those around us. We must not squander that gift.”