A leader with a cause, and a conviction that we can achieve it, has a powerfully positive effect upon our brains. Why? Because, when we have a certainty about the future and conviction about our cause, we become more focused, more willing to collaborate, more able to learn. We become more innovative and creative, more willing to get involved and make a difference.
Leaders with a cause give us a sense of certainty, because they paint a vivid picture of success for us. They know exactly what they want to achieve, and what success looks like. That vision of success is so powerful it almost feels like you are there already.
They use that future vision to drive actions today. They know precisely where they want to be in a given timescale, even if they do not know exactly how to get there. They work with us to determine the goals that we need to achieve if we are to succeed, and those goals become our goals, to which we are even more committed.
Better yet, they make sure we all know exactly what our colleagues are doing and how we interact to achieve a great result, and that alignment enables better teamwork, greater agility and more innovation.
Because they know we are committed to the cause, charismatic leaders empower us to get on with our goals and give us freedom to operate with autonomy within an agreed framework. As an employee it is reassuring to know that we have a way of doing things that empowers us and enables autonomy. Because we feel trusted, we are more likely to trust our colleagues, and that trust encourages open communication and much greater awareness of progress, problems or need for change.
We are attracted to leaders who have a cause because they are passionate about doing something that matters, something that makes a difference. Their drive and energy to succeed are inspiring. They are not slaves to their passion; they are passionate about their cause. To achieve it, they set clear goals, which they are willing to review all the time, and they are open to looking to find ways to improve so that they can achieve their cause more quickly and more efficiently.
They have learned to talk about their cause in a compelling way. And no matter where they sit in the organisational hierarchy, they are able to connect their cause to that of the organisation. They make absolutely sure that their employees are connected as well by making sure they know exactly how they contribute.
Leaders with a cause that truly inspires always have their customers at the forefront of their thinking, and it is for them that they want to make a difference. They are in tune with those customers and they make sure that everyone in that team is also in tune.
To align people to a cause, leaders need to learn how to:
- develop and articulate a compelling cause or purpose, and constantly drive the effort required to achieve it
- bring customers into every team meeting and decision
- align everyone’s goals to a common vision
- deliver autonomy through a freedom framework
- develop a deep-rooted culture of continuous improvement.
Neuroscientists and psychologists believe that when people have a clear sense of purpose, a stretching set of goals, and a guiding set of principles, they are likely to achieve more. When people have a sense of purpose, neurochemicals in their brains are released that are more likely to enable success, and these in turn enable positive behaviours that drive progress.
All too often, people in leadership positions begin conversations with employees around the financial metrics and dashboard measures of the desired performance. They don’t realise that this actually tends to make people close down emotionally, cognitively and perceptually.
Measures follow the cause and must not become the cause. To open people’s minds, you need to discuss first the purpose of the activities. When they emotionally connect with that, then you can discuss the measures of success.
Compelling leaders know that creating value for customers is the only way to create value for shareholders and all other stakeholders. Value for customers can take many forms – whether it is helping them make more of their lives, easing pain, providing joyful experiences, giving them ways to connect with other people, or impacting society in positive ways.
The point is that, in some way, you are doing something that is meaningful because it is of value to other people – and the best leaders know to express their cause in this way.
They know that when customers value your services, you are able to deliver shareholder value, which is an outcome, as is profitable growth. Improvements in revenue, profit targets, market share – all of these are important goals, as well as being measures of success.
But they are not the reason to come to work every day, and neuroscience shows that using any of these goals as your purpose does little to fire up the positive emotions of employees.
To better tune the way you express your cause, consider the following questions:
- Do you have a cause for yourself and your team that excites both your and their passion?
- Does your cause make a difference to other people? Have you expressed your cause (or purpose) in a way that makes clear the benefits that others will derive from your products or services?
- Have you connected your team’s cause to the purpose of your employer? Is there a clear link to show how what your team does, enables the achievement of your company’s cause?
- Is your cause expressed in a short and compelling way?
- Does your cause help to guide your decisions and daily behaviours?
- Have you asked your team whether this is sufficiently motivating to help them out of bed in the morning? How do they feel about it? What would they prefer?
- Does the cause have numbers in it? If so, consider whether this may better be a vision or goal statement.
- Have you checked how your customers feel about your cause?Do they agree with the benefits that you say you deliver them? Do they have a better way of expressing the benefits you deliver?
Kevin Murray CCMI, is a business author and speaker with more than 45 years of leadership experience. This article is drawn from research he did for his new book Charismatic Leadership: The skills you can learn to motivate high performance in others (published by Kogan Page). You can find out more about his work here. CMI members can save 20% on this book with the code CMI20.
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