“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit” (Albert Schweitzer)

Very few people seem to have “found their voice”. By this I mean: knowing and living your values, understanding and acting on your life’s purpose, getting to grips with your strengths and giftedness and utilising the same to leverage your impact, being engaged, contributing meaningfully, and being energised at home, in your work, and in the community. Far too many people, predominantly out of a need to earn money, show up listlessly at work and plod through the day, unsure if they are really making an impact or even being noticed. They certainly struggle to draw the dotted line between what they do and the company’s purpose – why the company exists. They find it difficult to understand whether they add real value or not, and no-one gives them constructive feedback on their performance.

In no way is the above “pain” more clearly and practically manifest in organisations than in their inability to focus on and execute their highest priorities. FranklinCovey, the consulting company of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, in collaboration with Harris Interactive, used the Execution Quotient questionnaire to poll 23 000 USA residents employed full time within key industries and in key functional areas to plot any execution gaps – some of their findings follow:

  • Only 37% said that they have a clear understanding of what their organisation is attempting to achieve and why.
  • Only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their team’s and organisation’s goals.
  • Only 1 in 5 workers said they have a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organisation’s goals.
  • Only half were satisfied with the work they accomplished at the end of the week.
  • Only 15% felt that their organisation fully enables them to execute key goals.
  • Only 15% felt they worked in a high trust environment.
  • Only 17% felt that their organisation fosters open communication that is respectful of differing opinions and that results in new and better ideas.
  • Only 10% felt that their organisation holds people accountable for results.
  • Only 20% fully trusted the organisation they work for.
  • Only 13% have high trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.

Dr Stephen R Covey, (The 8th Habit), insightfully relates the above results to the game of soccer: “If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only four of the eleven players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only two of the eleven would care. Only two of the eleven would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but two players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponents.”

Covey goes on to state that the data is sobering: “Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organisations they work for. They are neither fulfilled nor excited. They are frustrated. They are not clear about where the organisation is headed or what its highest priorities are. They are bogged down and distracted. Most of all, they don’t feel they can change much. Can you imagine the personal and organisational cost of failing to fully engage the passion, talent, and intelligence of the workforce? It is far greater than all taxes, interest charges and labour costs put together!”

Leaders have the responsibility to create environments and cultures that are well-suited to employees discovering their strengths and applying their giftedness in the workplace. Not only do leaders need to provide training and appropriate resources to accomplish tasks, but they also need to instil confidence and create opportunities for their people to excel. Leaders need to see more in their people than their people are able to see in themselves and then stretch them to find their potential and their voices.

Alinda Nortje, Founder and Executive Chairperson of Free To Grow, mentions four critical P’s upon which leaders should focus in creating an engaging and enabling culture, viz:

  1. Purpose – communicating with employees the “why” of the organisation. This “why” is not about making money or profit, as this is a result. It is about why the organisation exists, the foundational beliefs of the organisation, its values that drive its behaviour, its DNA, its reason that it has a place in this world (e.g., ‘provider of finessed banking solutions for top-end banking clients’, or ‘provider of healthy food to counter obesity’, or ‘keeping motorists safe through the manufacture of reliable tyres’, etc.). All employees need to know the ultimate purpose of the company.
  2. Picture – communicating the “vision” of the organisation with employees. Employees need to be reminded about the organisation’s “big picture” constantly. They need to know what the company is aiming at, what that looks like and how we will know when we have achieved it. The vision must have a magnetic field – it needs to be compelling so as to draw employees along the road to achieving desired results (e.g.: annually, we will manufacture two million reliable tyres in order to protect the safety of 500 000 motorists worldwide).
  3. Plan – communicating the “detailed strategy” to all employees. All staff want to know “how we are going to get there?” and the resources that will be available to assist progress. Developing a strategy ideally should be shared amongst all the departments to create ownership of the way ahead. Each department should have its own mini plan and also understand its collaboration responsibilities within the broader system of activities.
  4. Part – communicating the responsibilities and accountabilities in terms of the “part that individuals and teams have to play” to achieve objectives. Leaders must clearly demonstrate an understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities and how these functional roles are integral to success. Employees need to know how they will be appraised and rewarded for exceptional performance that is in alignment with goals.

Engaging cultures reduce levels of fear, build trust, and enable employees to find and exercise their respective voices. Effective leadership communication and great leadership example is necessary to encourage employees to give of their best and be part of something bigger than themselves. Employees, once fully engaged, will offer their ideas, go the extra mile, and find more efficient ways of working. They will find their voices and be confident in their respective contributions.

Free To Grow offers the programme, Engaging Leadership, to assist leaders to engender a culture of trust, cultivate effective communication and enable meaningful contribution.

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