What Makes a Dynamic Leader?

by Larraine Segil

Inspiration is an essential trait for dynamic managers. When managers are inspired they are driven to push the envelope, to think out of the box, to take the initiative to get things done --- and above all else, to motivate others.

Valerie Salembier, publisher of Esquire magazine, embodies the characteristics of an inspirational leader. As Renee Lewin, associate publisher at Esquire puts it, "Valerie motivates people because she has three strong attributes. First is her undeniable sense of humanity. She is extremely real as a person, not just to me, who deals with her every day, but also to the lowest person in the organization. Second is her work ethic. There is nothing she will not do to get the job done. And third, she embodies teamwork. She really does believe that everyone at every level has a contribution to make."

Who wouldn't want to work for someone like Valerie? We all thrive in workplaces that are rewarding, inspiring, and that provide opportunities for innovation. Do you inspire your employees? You can only inspire them if you inspire yourself. If you come to work every day with a sinking feeling in your stomach and are either bored with what you do or irritated by it, the people who work with you will sense the truth about your feelings, regardless of your words. Motivation and inspiration cannot just be the talk; they also have to be the walk.

Recently, I was with a team of mid-career people from a company that has been through three mergers of "equals" (a myth because there is always a controlling culture). They were bright, dedicated people, but their leader was a bureaucratic and, frankly, completely boring individual. Not everyone can be a comedian, or even have a good personality, but "lighten up" is the phrase that comes to mind. If you are going to deal with people, you have to develop the interpersonal skills that make relationships worth having. Even laughing at yourself is appropriate behavior if you are known to be quiet and reserved. And, fun is inspiring itself --- it creates team bonding, respect for others, maturity if presented with the latter, and a chance to people to refresh themselves and their environment.

The Inspiration Process

The approach to inspiring yourself and your employees can be broken down into a three-part process:

  1. The first part consists of a brief exercise: identify what you love to do; find a way to include that in your work habits and approach; ask those on your team or who report to you to do the same.
  2. Reward those who do this with recognition.
  3. Spread the word about what you and they did.

Here are three real-life examples that illustrate these steps:

A midlevel manager at an outsourcing manufacturing company is a photographer on the side --- a hobby he enjoyed immensely. At work, he was in the finance department and related to those in other functions in the organization. Most people did not see him as a person with an ability to see creative solutions, but rather someone who often said "no." The constraints of his position frequently required that response. His solution to changing the way people perceived him was to create a series of photos that expressed his points of view. In contrast to handouts or speeches or even PowerPoint presentations, the photos increased his workers' understanding of him as a whole person. This acted as learning tool for the internal services that he offered. Sometimes he used humor with the photos to assist in his communication process. Instead of grimacing when he entered a meeting, people would ask, "what's on the menu for today?" He was also perceived as more creative than he had been given credit for, and his performance improved --- as did his enthusiasm for work.

A midlevel manager was a new employee at a software company and was part of the staff/support team to the sales group. To her dismay, she found that not only was her job not highly regarded by the salespeople, but that the company was in a continual act of reorganization and restructuring, so the salespeople had given up trying to know who was in which job. She had to find a way to make herself known to the salespeople she was supposed to support and to gain their respect for her ability to add value. While her actual job was to evaluate and implement sales training programs for the sales staff, the sales team continued to see her as overhead. When trying to come up with what she could do that was different, she returned to the passion of her youth --- playing tennis, a game of individual skill that required concentration and agility. She decided to create a game that would act as a grading system for the various sales programs. She hoped this would add something different to her internal training and open the door for further conversation. She chose the game Hangman, which she adapted to explain why one program might be more valuable than another. If a sales program contained more than 15 management buzzwords, it failed on the noose of consultant-speak and was replaced by another program that provided clearer language. She also created a series of quizzes, which made the communication process more fun.

A telecommunications company was a divestiture from one of the former Bell operating companies and, as such, was still rather hierarchical. The only way to make change happen was on a local level, bypassing the politics of senior management that still threatened to choke off innovation and growth. One mid-senior-level executive came up with a competition that would connect the internal, same-site working groups at the midlevel in the organization. They were asked to come up with a team song and mascot that would communicate to other groups within the organization what they did. This acted as a communication mechanism for the internal network of those who served each other --- information technology, human resources, marketing communications, legal, finance. The competition would be held on a Friday in the company cafeteria, with free lunch for all who attended. The winners would have a page on the company website to show employees at other locations what they did and how. It worked so well that other team leaders really bought into the idea, adding their own concepts, and the program was adopted nationwide. Needless to say, the manager gained personal recognition as a good corporate citizen, leader and motivator of people.

Do you inspire others? How well do you motivate your staff? To assess how well you are inspiring your workforce, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you doing what inspires you (and what you love) as part of what you do every day? If not, how can you insert some of what you love into your job?

  • Do your direct reports or team members act as though they are inspired every day? Ask them to do the same exercise you did?

  • What tells you and others that you are inspired at work and that you get a kick out of what you do each day? Find a way to communicate this. If only you know it, you are missing a huge leverage opportunity.

  • What tells you that your employees feel the same way? Encourage them to communicate their ideas of inspiration to others.

  • How visible are you to your direct reports?

  • Are you living each day as if it were your last?

Larraine Segil is a Thought Leader on mergers, alliances and the importance of business relationships. Her latest book, "Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization: Ten Essential Traits for Managers," was published in March, 2002 as the lead book for Wiley Publishers. She is also the author of "FastAlliances™: Power Your E-Business" (Wiley, 2001), and "Intelligent Business Alliances," (Times Books, 1996). Larraine has been featured in BusinessWeek, CIO, CFO, Bloomberg News, and Internet World. She is a commentator on CNN, CNBC and Yahoo FinanceVision on alliances and mergers, and consults worldwide on alliances for domestic and global companies. Larraine can be reached directly at (310) 556-1778 or via email at lsegil@lsegil.com . More information can be found on her website at www.lsegil.com .

Media Contact: Cindy Kazan (414) 352-3535; cindy@communik-pr.com .

Many more articles in Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Larraine Segil. All rights reserved.

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