To Struggle or Not to Struggle

Posted: February 22, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Culture, Leadership, People

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipDuring the first week of my entrepreneurial leadership classes at Miami, I introduce a definition of leadership – “Leadership is the art of convincing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations” (Kouzes and Posner).   My first question to the students always is “which words or phrases really pop out at you.”   Their response is almost always “struggle.” Why? From their perspective, a leader is a positive person and struggle is a very negative term. And so, this begins an interesting but intense discussion around the merits of “struggle” in one’s life.   Usually, I win the discussion because ultimately I refer to such admired leaders as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln and point to how their struggles shaped their legacies.

Refer again to the “leadership” definition. Often glossed over in the definition are the two words preceding to struggle – to want. Leaders convince employees, peers, vendors, partners, etc. to want to struggle with them. Just envision the difference in the result when people want to struggle. The project or the work is completed with a sense of urgency moved by passion and desire for the outcome. Entrepreneurs generally know how to create this environment because their employees see them struggle every day to experience breakthrough in their business. Their daily example encourages the people to want to struggle for the start-up’s successful launch.

Conversely, corporations today have difficulty moving their employees to struggle for the enterprise. A 2013 Gallup poll found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. This means that only one in eight workers is committed to struggling in their job and for the enterprise. Why? Corporations have very few leaders to model the way. Without the leader igniting shared aspirations, employees will become frustrated and disillusioned in their work. The lack of effort shows up in their mediocre performance. They have no desire to struggle or deliver discretionary effort in their job and for their company. This will not be disrupted until bosses become leaders and motivate their people to extraordinary performance.

So, how can leaders gain a commitment from their employees and ultimately, develop an edge against their competition? Consider the following actions:

  • Learn how to inspire shared aspirations. Even, your top performers need to know what they are struggling for. If you fail to clarify the vision, your people will exit the boat and you will be left paddling by yourself. Find a way to get your team on the raft with their oars in the water.

 

  • Breakdown your organization into smaller, entrepreneurial units. Model the behaviors you expect so the business will excel. Work alongside your team. Encourage ideas from your people. And, of course, do something with the ideas.

 

  • Spend time watching other leaders work their magic. Focus on how they engage their people. Listen to how they communicate with them. Watch how they listen intently to what they are saying and provide a related response. View how they encourage them and reinforce their efforts. See how they treat their people with dignity and respect. And then sit back and watch how the team gladly struggles for shared aspirations.

 

Just be a LEADER and your people will want to struggle along with you.

 

 

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