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Understanding What Drives Us To Push Ahead

How do we motivate our employees – and ourselves – when the focus is simply on getting today's work done?

As the month of June begins to wind down, I’ve found myself reflecting on a unique milestone for my blog – namely, how this month marks my 8th year of writing my blog, marking almost a decade of sharing my writings and insights with my online readership.

I have to be honest in admitting that I never imagined that I’d be writing a blog for so long, where I put out new ideas and insights every week. Extrapolate that out over eight years and that means over 400 articles on communication, vision, teamwork, shared purpose, employee engagement, strategy, and so many other topics found under the umbrella of leadership.

Then again, creating new articles to share your ideas and insights on leadership doesn’t come with a fixed end point – a date and time that you can circle on a calendar or enter into an app as being the finish line.

Indeed, as is the case with leadership, you can’t know ahead when you’ll be done until you reach that moment where you can survey the landscape around you and know that you’ve done what you were meant to do, and that it’s now time to hand over the helm to someone else.

Of course, there are times well before you cross that finish line where you might feel the desire – or perhaps more accurately, the fatigue – that comes with delivering on the expectations others have of you; a feeling that makes you want to call it a day and let someone else mind the store.

It’s certainly a thought that comes to mind at times when I’m sitting at my computer trying to figure out what to write next – of what lessons I can share from the work I do, from the conversations I have with various leaders, or even from things I observe going on around me.

In those moments of creative stillness, I find myself facing one critical question to determine which fork in the road I should take; between moving on or moving ahead – does what I do still matter?

Now, I could use various metrics for my blog to help evaluate that question. This is, after all, the age of Big Data, where so many of those critical insights that we need to determine our progress, of where we need to focus our limited time and resources to obtain the end outcomes we desire can be extracted from reams of data tracking almost every aspect of modern work and life.

And yet, what this fails to take into consideration is that leadership is not found in a spreadsheet, but in the relationships we have with those we lead [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

One thing that I’ve come to rely on to remind me of this notion is the bulletin board found on one of my office walls. Affixed on it are various comments and thank you cards I’ve received over the years from my readers and clients.

In those moments where I struggle to find the drive to push forward – to challenge myself to discover some new lesson or insight to write about – I read these notes tacked to that bulletin board where people share with me the impact my work has had on them. On how it strengthened their understandings of what it takes to lead, or how it helped them to better connect with those under their care.

More than social shares or blog traffic, it’s these messages and conversations I’ve had with my readers that fuels my drive to provide something new every week – whether that be some new idea, insight, or outlook that will challenge, inspire, and motivate people to become the leader they can be.

Now the reason why I’m sharing this on the occasion of my 8-year blog anniversary is not simply to provide a glimpse into the nature of writing over the long-term. Rather, the point here is to use this example to reveal a common, unspoken reality that today’s leaders face. That in between the highs of success and the lows of failure is the uncertain middle ground where we can find ourselves wondering – am I doing enough to inspire those I lead to bring their best selves to the work they do?

Are the ideas and messages I’m speaking and imparting to others connecting with what matters to those I have the responsibility to lead? In other words, am I making a difference through my leadership?

Giving ourselves time to reflect on such questions helps us to appreciate a critical truth to long-term success and prosperity – that it’s not about how good you are today, but what you can do to be better tomorrow [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

Granted, for many of us, the rapid, unending pace of today’s global environment makes it easy for us to cast such thoughts aside as it seems like every week there’s some new development happening in some other part of the world that casts uncertainty and doubt about what lies ahead for our organization and our community.

Of course, whether we choose to lose ourselves in the day-to-day or meet these questions head-on, the fact remains that herein lies an important lesson that every leader needs to remember over the long journey towards achieving their organization’s shared purpose.

Of what it takes to keep employees engaged not just in the here and now, but in the months and years ahead: what we need is more than just a commitment to keep pushing ahead; we also need a sense of purpose [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

When we talk about how leaders set the example for those under their care, it’s not just about exemplifying organizational values. It’s also about honouring your promise to show up – that they know that you will be there to support them, to cheer them on, and to help them pick themselves up when things go wrong.

Again, there have been times when I feel like skipping a week to publish a new piece on my blog because I have a full plate with work commitments, speaking engagements, and being able to spend time with my family.

And yet, every time when I try to convince myself to just this once skip on writing something new, there’s that voice in my head that speaks loud and clear – honour the commitment you’ve made to your readers.

Honour that relationship built over the past eight years where readers can come to this blog to be inspired, to be challenged, and hopefully, to come away with a better understanding of what their employees need from those in charge in order to succeed and thrive.

This is what those successful leaders we all admire and look up consistently do – pick any leader you admire and you’ll see this is exactly what they did. Granted, we tend to admire them for this trait because they demonstrated it in the face of overwhelming odds or adversity. But the truth is, even in the mundane routines of the day-to-day, we can still see that same drive to keep pushing forward because it answers the question – this is why we do what we do.

These leaders we all look up to understood that leadership is not an earned right, but a privilege to serve others by creating a better tomorrow [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

And when we learn to recognize this difference, it no longer becomes a question of whether we want to keep pressing ahead, but rather whether we have what’s necessary to help those around us to keep pushing ahead. To help them to question and challenge not only their own perceptions of today, but of their potential to become something greater going forward.

So as I commemorate the 8th anniversary of writing this blog, here’s to looking both towards today and in the future for those opportunities where we might challenge ourselves – and hopefully along with it, those we lead or inspire – to become that better version of who we can and should be. Not only because we can, but because it’s what matters.

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