How To Make A Great Chief Inspiration Officer
I made the varsity swim team when I was in 7th grade. I was a scrawny kid that hit puberty late, so making the varsity swim team was less indicative of a personal achievement than it was the state of our high school swim team. And Coach Swenson was determined to turn things around.
At our very first swim meet, just a few weeks after training began, I witnessed a fully developed high school senior have what could best be described as a temper tantrum. It turned into him proclaiming that he would quit the team if Coach Swenson made him swim the dreaded 500 – the longest race in high school swimming, 20 laps. The memory of what Coach Swenson did next would stay with me throughout my life.
Looking around for quite possibly the strongest contrast with the fully developed senior, Coach Swenson asked me to come over and join him in his huddle with the Team Captains — some of the strongest seniors on the team. He gave me a pep talk, along with precise instructions on what I would need to do. With unquestionable resolve, he commanded that I achieve something that I didn’t previously believe was even a remote possibility for myself.
“Carvajal, I need you to swim the 500. We are spread thin and I’ve got no one else on the team for this slot. You just need to finish the race, even in last place. The team needs the 2 points. With your 2 points, we could win the entire swim meet. I know you can do it, Carvajal, I believe in you. The team believes in you. Will you do it?”
Before I could hit the “s” in yes, the huddle erupted in a celebratory burst. The sheer terror of what I had committed to was palpable. Yet, because he believed in me, I did finish that race.
As a leader, you have many responsibilities. One of the most under-valued is that of Chief Inspiration Officer. The best way to get anyone to do anything is to make him or her want to do it. A team that is positive, motivated and engaged can move mountains! You must be the motivating force that keeps that team excited, inspired, and moving together toward success.
Of course, in order to inspire your team, you need the right team. First, you must make sure that you have built a strong group, with the right players in each position. All of your team members should be intrinsically motivated by the system of values that is inherent in the company’s cultural DNA, established by the founders and CEO. They should also know that they have signed up for high performance, and that “good enough” isn’t good enough: They need to be great.
As the leader, your role is to always set the vision for a better world created by the development and delivery of your product. People are unbeatable when they believe they are working for the greater good: Communicate this vision for your team, and they can power through any obstacles.
Secondly, form a strong relationship with each player on your team. Help them to set an individual vision of a greater self, a self that will be built by learning and performing at a high level within your organization. Make sure each member of your team knows that you support their professional development and their quest to become someone greater than they are today through hard work and success.
It’s also important to celebrate the great achievements that do happen. Celebrate wins for the team, and individual wins, constantly. People will perform at a higher level when they are motivated by the promise of a celebration right around the corner.
One key tool for this work is the 5-to-1 ratio for positive and critical feedback. People are bombarded with negative information throughout the day. It becomes overwhelming, and can lead them to become demotivated and disengaged. So, offer your employees all the critique they need to improve – but remember to balance each piece of critique with 5 pieces of positive feedback.
So, instead of simply telling your employee John that he’s blown his last three deadlines and it’s become a problem, you might try this: “John, you’re fantastic and I love the way you work with the clients and team. I would like you to focus more on hitting your deadlines. The work you produce is awesome, just need to make sure it’s timely and we’re hitting the commitments we set out to and we’re holding ourselves accountable and to a high standard.”
That positive feedback also helps develop trust. Any business is a sophisticated network of complex conversations – the quality of those conversations determines the success of the business. By offering positive feedback and celebration of wins, you develop the relationships necessary for direct, honest, and open communication that makes your conversations effective.
Your work as Chief Inspiration Officer is more than hand-holding or “being nice.” By taking the responsibility to motivate your team, you are taking charge of their development. Your work will get your team moving together, in the right direction. That creates alignment and increases your velocity and operational excellence, making it possible for your business to soar to new heights.
Back to Coach Swenson. I did, in fact, finish the race — approximately 5 minutes after the second to last contestant. And as I pulled my fully spent body out of the pool, each limb feeling like a limp strand of spaghetti, the entire natatorium stood up to give me a standing ovation. We won the meet by three points.
In the years that followed, Coach Swenson would allow me to choose the race events that I wanted to participate in. Eventually, I developed a decent butterfly stroke and won a place on the starting lineup. He would retell the story of my 500 race whenever someone complained about race assignments.
Most importantly, Coach Swenson helped me create a greater vision of myself than even I thought was possible. His belief in me, as incredulous as I was about myself, allowed me to reach new heights.