One of the responsibilities that comes with leadership is not only to communicate the vision or purpose behind your employees’ shared efforts, but to ensure that your team stays motivated and on track to achieving their goals. Under normal circumstances, this can prove challenging to sustain over the long term as employees grapple with various obstacles that stand in their path.
Of course, in light of today’s conditions of continual change and upheaval, it’s easy for that focus to shift to putting out those daily fires as a means of feeling some form of accomplishment, instead of directing your energies towards guiding your employees to excel and thrive despite the obstacles that stand in their way.
But should we consider it unrealistic for leaders to foster hope for tomorrow and to inspire greatness in those they lead in response to the challenges their organizations face in today’s global economy? For one organization, the answer is a resounding ‘no’ and they have a number of success stories to back them up.
Genesys Works is a non-profit organization which “enables inner-city high school students to break through barriers and discover through meaningful work experience that they can succeed as professionals in the corporate world”. As this brief video shows, although these students live in an environment which paints a bleak future, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be inspired to succeed because someone was willing to believe in their potential to commit to something greater –
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Twila Day, the Chairman of the Board of Genesys Works Houston, who will be giving the keynote address next Wednesday at Talent Management Alliance’s “People in Energy” conference in Houston, Texas. As you’ll see in the transcript below, her experiences have revealed some valuable lessons of how leaders can inspire a greater purpose in their employees in the same way her organization has done with these disadvantaged students.
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Tanveer: After seeing some of the success stories from your program, one thing that’s apparent is how the students come away with a new sense of purpose; of understanding that they have talents and abilities that can benefit others. Looking at the state of today’s workplaces, we see the opposite happening, where many employees feel disenfranchised in large part because they don’t see how their efforts matter to their organization. Based on the work your organization does, what advice could you give to other leaders for how they can instill that same sense of purpose and meaning in their employees?
Our interns prove without exception that they will and can step up to a challenge. Often the fear of failure prevents many managers and supervisors from trusting the young employees to actually do the job. However, when given the chance to prove themselves, it almost always succeeds and becomes a win/win. This does not mean, of course, that we set the employee up to fail; rather, we entrust them with a task involving the right amount of mentoring to ensure they do succeed. Once the employee develops a sense of confidence to accept more responsibility, they become more willing to accept the next challenge and as a result gain that sense of purpose and meaning that we want for them.
Tanveer: It seems that one of the organizational values you use to create this sense of meaning and purpose in these students is due to the expectations you have regarding their participation in your program. Of course, by expectations I don’t mean just expecting them to show up for work and fulfilling their obligations. Instead, I’m referring to showing these students that you believe in them and that you’re committed to helping them succeed. Do you think this might be another element that’s currently lacking in many organizations today?
Absolutely, I think this is unique to each organization and likely to each manager or supervisor. Motivating employees is an art. I would say that training managers and supervisors on leadership techniques that foster a sense of employee development and well-being should be part of every organization’s leadership training program.
Tanveer: Another point I noted about the work your organization does is that it highlights the importance of mentoring others; of giving back to your community and to those around you to ensure that when the time comes, there will be someone waiting in the wings to continue to build on what you started. As you rose up the ranks of management, did you have the benefit of a mentor to help guide you along and if so, what key lessons did they impart to you?
Yes, I have had both sponsors and mentors along the way. I distinguish between the two because in my mind they provide different types of assistance. My mentors are individuals who I get regular coaching from. I’m able to bounce ideas off of them and they give me honest up-front feedback. My sponsors are individuals who are willing to speak up on my behalf when I’m not in the room or part of a conversation. They are my champions.
I’ve been very blessed to have many different individuals along the way who have given me great advice and helped me through difficult situations. One piece of advice was: “It’s not the individual battles that are important but the overall war”… meaning, there will be many battles along the way; some you win, some you lose. What is most important is the outcome of the overall war.
Tanveer: Of course, in the process of mentoring others, one part of that equation is developing a plan for what you as a leader ultimately want to accomplish for your organization as a lasting legacy of your efforts to guide and help others. Looking at where you’ve been and where you’d like to go, what are you hoping will be the legacy you leave behind in the care of those you now serve?
I’m especially proud of the changes I’ve been able to put in place for my employees in regards to work-life balance, recognition, and leadership development. So much of a leader’s job is about their employees and the employees are really the asset they have. I’m a firm believer that you treat others they way you want to be treated. I’ve worked very hard to make sure the environment my employees work in is as pleasant as possible.
With technology, you have large projects and issues, so the work is challenging enough without having a negative atmosphere to work in. I’ve always found that if I treat my employees well, when I really need them to step up and go the extra mile, they are willing to do so.
Tanveer: There’s no question that serving in a leadership role is a tough job, one that seems like it will only get harder in the years to come. Looking back at the path that you took and the various leadership roles you served under, what would you say was the hardest lesson you had to learn when it comes to leading others?
I think that when you work with people in general, there is not a “cookie cutter” approach. You have to be flexible in your thoughts and how you react and deal with situations. There are so many different strengths, talents, and personalities in an organization. As a leader, I believe it’s your job to figure out how to best utilize an individual. If you find someone is not in the “right seat on the bus”, be willing to move them to another seat. This obviously has to be balanced with dealing with a “real performance issue”; that it’s not about someone who is just misplaced, but instead someone who isn’t a fit at all.
Also, I think it’s very important to be genuine. You have to keep in touch with your employees. You can’t forget what it was like to be in a position like them. So many leaders lose all sense of understanding and to me that means they are not effective.
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On the Genesys Works website, they write –
The biggest obstacle to achieving success is not lack of opportunity, but not knowing what opportunities exist”.
Ms. Day’s experiences and the efforts being made by her organization are proof that while the obstacles organizations and their employees face might challenge their ability to achieve their goals, they are not a reason for us to assume that we cannot aim higher in helping those under our care to achieve a level of success and accomplishment which they might not otherwise attain.
Special note of thanks to the Talent Management Alliance for helping to co-ordinate this interview. You can learn more about Twila Day and the other speakers invited to speak at the “People in Energy” conference by visiting their website.
Some other posts you may enjoy:
- Are You Following These 3 Rules For Giving Effective Feedback?
- Helping Employees Reconnect With Their Sense of Purpose
- Are You Creating A Toxic Workplace? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions To Find Out
- Are Your Employees Mad As Hell and Not Going to Take It Anymore?
- Why It’s Time to Rethink Your Company Brand’s Message
- It’s Not You, It’s Me – Is Narcissism Good for Leadership?