A quest to find inspiration @ work

Finally, I can exhale after a marathon workshop with senior business leaders! I am a planner. I like having a clear idea of the framework, content, process, flow, and desired outcome, well before I lead a workshop. However, this was a peculiar one – we had an incredibly complex code to crack, 3 days to do it in, and no idea of where to start… With great trepidation, a loose structure in my head, no slides, only a compelling mission, we dove in. What unfolded was the unshackled and boundary-less thinking we rarely see in our daily lives. I saw this group of diverse talented leaders jump in to co-create, co-lead, and co-follow real time, and I was part of and witness to the magic of a team playing off and building on each other. Interestingly, I don’t think we would’ve got to the outcome, if we had a structured approach. We went where the energy of the group was, and this enabled us to come up with some seriously unconventional solutions.

At the end of the day, exhausted but energized (as weird as that sounds), I am reflecting on the daily inspiration that comes our way, that moves us, captures our imagination, makes our heart sing, connects with our passion & purpose and drives us to do the impossible. 

If that doesn’t really sound like a typical day at work, you are not alone. These moments of flow*, are inherently different from our daily work.

A google search for ‘Stressed @ work’ generates 1.1 billion results (yes, you read that right!), ‘occupational stress’ generates 104 million and just to top it off, ‘soul crushed @ work’ generates 17.4 million hits. Phew! Given that we spend most of our lives at work, that is an awful lot of time to spend being uninspired!

Why are we lifted to deliver more than we thought we were capable of in some situations, and yet hold ourselves back in so many others? I start to wonder how everyday can be more inspiring than the last, and make us leap out of bed in the morning, excited to see what the day has in store for us. 

The dilemma for leaders and the organization is ; how do we create more moments of flow* for our teams?

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Here’s my pick for top 14 sources of inspiration @ work:

Purpose 

A company that has and lives by its uplifting purpose, is an infinite source of energy, that lifts us out of the ordinary.  

Meaningful work 

Knowing that our work is making a difference to patients, consumers, the organization and society, is an extremely powerful driver. We want to matter, to lead a life of significance and leave the world better than we found it. That, connected to our personal purpose and values creates compelling momentum for action. 

A ‘build’ conversation

An energizing conversation, when we get through to someone and someone gets through to us. Think of the days when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Brainstorms are a great example of a ‘build’ conversation. Do you have someone at work you bounce off ideas with, and they tell you like it is? These colleagues are a much needed lifeline for inspiration. 

Feedback 

Feedback that opens your eyes, and changes the trajectory of learning, is truly inspiring. Many years ago, In my 360 assessment, a peer urged me to strive to “bring out the genius in others”. The deliberate choice of words, and the high bar it set, stuck with me, and shaped my leadership journey. Imagine the care and concern of the colleague who gave me this feedback. What a gift! 

Challenge 

The roller coaster of fun, frustration, excitement, struggle, hope, joy, impact, sense of achievement, pride and delivering against all odds, is an irresistible recipe for inspiration, and drives us to move mountains. 

Greater good

When our eyes are firmly planted on the greater good, and there is no space for hidden agendas, and politics, there can only be true collaboration and team spirit.

Audacious expectations

When leaders unshackle their teams, encourage audacious goals, push boundary-less thinking, set high expectations and paint a compelling vision of the future, and more importantly push, prod and provoke us to go beyond our limits, it is undeniably inspiring.

Connect meaningfully and build trust

Stories are powerful. They help us understand what makes a person tick, their drivers, their trials and tribulations. Do we know our colleagues’ stories? A few years ago, one of my teams was going through significant interpersonal issues. In a particularly challenging team lab session, we tried to find common ground. As my team worked through challenging exercises, delving deeper than they ever thought they would, I stood in awe of their willingness to be authentic, vulnerable and work through gut wrenching conversations constructively. I saw the weight being lifted off their shoulders and the first rays of sunshine, and smiles as they got to a breakthrough, inspiring each other, and me, in the process. 

Resolving conflict through constructive conversations

Conflicts are difficult for a number of reasons, from being just unpleasant, to impacting relationships. Being vulnerable and honest, having self awareness, and putting in the hard work to have a constructive conversation creates an inspiring environment for healing and finding common ground. 

Inclusion and Finding common ground amidst diverse views

This is the greatest challenge in teams today, as world views get increasingly polarized, and we consume information in increasingly myopic ways. Recently, a talented, diverse group of senior business leaders worked with me to deliver on a very complex initiative. Despite a million (no kidding!) different views, numerous ways to approach it, and multiple possible solutions, we were able to figure it out, because of 3 qualities primarily, a) openness, b) listening, and c) selflessness. This is as much a recipe for trust, respect and team effectiveness, as it is for finding common ground, and consequently inspiration.

Power of team

One of my biggest source of inspiration, over the years, has been my team. A few months ago, we embarked on a highly complex and challenging goal. Every member of the team, though oceans apart, never having met each other, they were all in. Their passion, desire to make a difference, constantly going above and beyond their roles to help each other across the finish line, their sacrifices and their resilience was just astounding. Getting a glimpse of what they are capable of, was not only inspiring but also raised the bar for me as a leader. 

Leader who can unlock potential, through incisive questions

Early in my career I worked with a business leader, who always had 20 questions that were completely off-the-wall, whenever you presented to him. Jokingly, we used to call it ‘management by googly**’! His ability to elicit novel ideas, had a direct correlation with his questions.

Rewards & Recognition

The list is perhaps incomplete without this. The value of rewards and recognition to help us understand that we are on the right track, and are making an impact, is immense. 

Trying something new

The power of ideas is infinite. Widening our horizon through learning new subjects, languages, traveling off the beaten path, immersing ourselves in different cultures, new adventures, international assignments, diverse roles, different business contexts from start-ups to turn-arounds, expansive networks straddling business, academia, government across countries,… are all an inspiration to explore the infinite power of ideas. 

Do these sources of inspiration resonate with you? When you are looking for inspiration, what is your go-to? 

As I sign off, am thinking of a quote that really resonates with me.

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* The concept of Flow refers to a highly focused mental state or being in the zone, and came out of the work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 

** Googly is a term in cricket that refers to a deceptive delivery by the bowler, and is meant to confound the batsman, in the hopes of getting them out (dismissed). Similar to ‘curve ball’. 


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