Leadership is hard. I totally get that, because I’ve been in it for over two decades.
But to be perfectly honest, leadership never gets easy. The reason it’s never easy is that what’s hard keeps changing. You solve one problem, and now a new, likely larger one appears. That’s true when things are declining when they’re stagnant. And surprisingly, it’s even more trying when things are growing.
And in all scenarios, your next task as a leader is to tackle what’s ahead, which, of course, you’ve often never done before. Which is why it stays hard.
Naturally, that can get tiring. As a result, it’s remarkably easy for a once inspiring leader to stop leading into new vistas, and as a result, to stop inspiring their team.
Your team will put up with that for a while, but inevitably, they’ll lose motivation too. Keep it up, and any leader with options, especially the best ones, will leave. If you won’t lead your team with passion and purpose, your best leaders will leave. They’ll simply find someone who will.
I’ve had seasons where I know my leadership hasn’t been as inspirational as it should be, and over the years I’ve made it a point to start recognizing the signs that it’s happening. If I know the signs, it’s easier to snap back and begin leading and inspiring again.
1. YOU DON’T FEEL INSPIRED
So let’s start with an obvious one. It’s hard to inspire others when you’re not inspired.
I’ll the first to admit that passion waxes and wanes in season. Sometimes you’re tired or you’ve been running hard, but if you’re the leader, you’re supposed to be inspired by the mission you’re on.
One of the key principles of leadership is this: the passion of your team will rarely exceed your passion as a leader.
Do whatever you need to do to stay inspired. Revisit the mission, daily. Spend time alone, pray and meditate about why you’re not inspired. Talk to a friend or a counselor.
Sometimes (not always, but sometimes), the reason you’re not inspired is that your vision is too small. If your mission doesn’t inspire you, get a bigger or better mission. Personally, I think it’s great to be fueled by something that’s bigger than you are, and that seems almost impossible to pull off.
When you have something that big, it’s also impossible for you to take the credit if it happens.
2. YOU’RE SHOWING VERY LITTLE GRATITUDE
When you’re no longer inspiring your team, check your gratitude. Gratitude is usually one of the first things to go when you’re not in a good season, and it’s one of the most devastating things for team members to lose.
Lose gratitude, and you’ll soon discover it gets replaced by its nemesis: expectation.
Not only are you not grateful, but you also begin to tell yourself things like:
I pay these people for more than that.
Sure, she’s volunteering, but her effort doesn’t even come close to the pressure I’m facing.
What do you mean you want to go home? There’s work to do.
The more tired you are, the more likely you expect things from people rather than be grateful for them.
And that’s a great way to lose good people.
3. YOUR VISION IS FUZZY
It’s hard to rally people around a fuzzy vision for the future.
When casting vision, clarity is your friend.
If your vision is clear, you’ll have a compelling answer to questions like these:
What hill are you taking next?
Why are you taking it?
What happens after that?
Who are you helping?
What difference is it making?
Why is your mission so critical?
If you can’t answer those questions, don’t expect your team to rally or throw their whole heart behind the mission.
Clarity is your best friend when it comes to vision.
If you don’t have it and feel things might be slipping away, you might start to want to control people.
Poor leaders substitute control for clarity.
Here’s why. If you don’t know with absolute clarity what your organization is, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there (in other words, if you’re fuzzy about your mission, vision and strategy), you can never truly align a team.
And as a result, you will always want to control it.
Clarity around the vision is a far better alternative.
4. YOU’RE MANAGING, NOT LEADING
Management is a good thing in the right measure. I agree with some of the voices of late who say we’ve overfocused on leadership and under focused on management. Good point.
Leadership without good management usually results in chaos instead of progress.
But no matter how well managed an organization is, every organization still needs leadership.
Management oversees what what needs to be done today. Leadership moves people into tomorrow.
Because leadership takes energy, passion and clarity, a lot of leaders default to managing. The bold new idea is to make next year incrementally better than this year. To tweak, not to reboot. To improve, but not to challenge or rethink.
Leadership inspires in a way management doesn’t.
5. YOU’RE OUT OF NEW IDEAS
One sure what to inspire a team is to have new ideas for the future. The longer you’ve been in leadership, the harder this can feel.
We live in an exceptional disruptive age. How we communicated two decades ago is not how we communicate today.
The same is true of
I’m not saying you have to come up with disruptive ideas, but I am saying that unless you have some new ideas, about how to accomplish your mission, it’s difficult to keep mobilizing people.
I’ve seen so many leaders who run out of vision cling to old methods—doing the same thing over and over again hoping for better results.
If there’s no plan for the future, there’s usually no future.
3 TIPS FOR REGAINING YOUR INSPIRATION
It’s great to point out the problem, but how do you move toward a solution.
Well, in some cases, it might be that you’re burned out (here are some signs of that), or that you need some counselling, or perhaps that it’s time to move on (here are 7 signs it’s time to leave.)
But if it’s just a season, what do you do to get inspired?
Here are a few things that have helped me.
Revisit the mission. Reminding yourself why you do what you do can go a long way to keeping your passion strong.
Study industry leaders. Who do you know that’s crushing it? Go hang out with them and take your notebook.
Get out of your echo chamber. Chances are you need some fresh influences, so go learn from some leaders and people who are different than you are.
I wrote some more on how to renew your leadership here (something that I think has to happen every 5-7 years regardless of how you feel).