“Someone once said that leadership is inspiration joined with perspiration, meaning that we live out our values in the nitty gritty world of our daily work.”
Those are the words of my friend and colleague Ken Daniel. We're teaching together in a yearlong leadership formation program called the Nollau Institute. Ken recently asked the participants, “Is it possible to 'operationalize' the inspirational dimension of leadership that we might aspire to?”
I like Ken's use of "inspiration and perspiration" and I appreciate his provocative question. My take on that question is, How do we put in place systems and practices that give voice to our highest aspirations and help our organizations act on what's most important to us?
When I meet with my Signal Hill team members, we ask each other "What are we working on and what's working?" With that question we do several things: (1) check in so that everyone's clear on the tasks that are at play; (2) assess the quality of our work; and (3) draw attention to specific habits or experiences that are most energizing – in other words, our inspiration in the work.
Then we ask each other, "How do we leverage what's working?" That question gets us thinking about how to make the most of our inspiration in concrete ways. It prompts us to see there are always opportunities to improve our work.
Sometimes the conversation about improvement can be a drain (i.e., "Oh no, I've got another task to add to my list!), but at our best, I think, we embrace the opportunity to challenge ourselves and each other to be better – because we know this potential is within our reach; because, indeed, this potential is very close to us: the energy to imagine improvement springs from our actual work.
That's one way of operationalizing inspiration. What do you think? What works for you and your organization?