I like to use the word inspire because, and this might sound corny but it is visionary. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, ‘Look, y’all, I was just having a think the other day that maybe we could get all along better.’ as opposed to ‘I have a dream, a dream, that all men are created equal.’
All of the steps to take in a leadership journey, this step, to inspire and provide vision, is by far the most important.
It’s August 2009.
Our family is halfway through our trip of a lifetime. We are in London, England. I had always wanted to see a play in the West End. I randomly choose the Criterion theatre where a play is about to start (it was a matinee) called ‘The 39 Steps’. I know nothing about the play except that it is based on a movie of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I pay my money and sit in the auditorium. For the next two hours, I am absolutely enthralled. I am witnessing an incredible piece of theatre. I laugh, at times, uncontrollably, from beginning to end and I’m on the edge of my seat pretty much the whole time. I later learnt that this comedy went on to win Olivier, Tony and Whatsonstage awards, celebrated a 9 year continuous run in the West End, is still playing on Broadway and had the 5th highest number of performances of any play in West End history.
This play is a true tour de force for actors and theatre companies alike. 4 actors playing 100+ characters, 300+ sound and lighting cues in two hours, lightning fast costume and scene changes, puppet shows, mime. The whole works and jerks. When I saw this show, I was also looking for a play to direct as my first production at the Incinerator theatre in Ipswich. People I know in the performing arts scene have read the play and deem it impossible to stage at the Incinerator Theatre.
You can imagine my mindset. Whenever somebody says something can’t be done, that to me is a challenge. A challenge I like to be inspired by. But I would need a talented team to pull it off. I lay out my vision and pitch it to people whom I think can help me pull it off. My vision is simply to be different. I first look to produce the play for the 2010 season but those running the Incinerator Theatre at the time don’t believe the production is possible to stage, so I don’t get the opportunity in 2010. I’m committed. I establish a team of cast and crew and work on the production for over a year to ultimately be granted the opportunity to perform a 3 week season of 13 performances at the Incinerator theatre in September 2011.
The show is a sellout. We even have people lining up at the gates asking for tickets but have to be turned away. It is still talked about as perhaps the best production to have been staged at the Incinerator. Be a leader even if you are the only one in the team.
To be honest, there were many times during the process of bringing the show to the stage that I was really concerned. But I stuck to the vision. Lao Tzu in the Art of War summarises this feeling best. He said that leadership has been defined as the ability to hide your panic from others. People may not always see the vision but it is your job to remove the cloak of invisibility and communicate it explicitly. Make your vision inspirational even if you are crapping yourself.
‘Because we’ve always done it that way’ is never inspirational.’ I tell this story because The Incinerator had been doing things the same way for a long time. ‘The 39 Steps’ was a departure from what had always been done. It was a different vision. It has since inspired others to get more involved in theatre and to produce shows of higher and higher calibre every year. All I did was do something different. The play was different, but the main difference was, I did it with passion and positivity.
This is what millennials are looking for. ROI is not enough for them. They will spend the weekend thinking about how they can make a difference to your customers. Come Monday morning and what do they hear? Stock price. Billing. ROI. Suddenly, their Monday music power playlist seems useless. They are sitting in a conference room listening to our lot drag on about cash flow. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t forget about these things but if we want to attract followers, millennials particularly, they need something to care about today. Talk to them about how we can make a difference, not the ROI report.
Fact: Organizations with a purpose bigger than money have a growth rate triple that of their competitors.
Don’t confuse culture with collateral. Free food in the meal room won’t do it. Millennials are not inspired to be more innovative over Subway. They need leaders who are motivated to push boundaries and think differently. Working in a cool office is really awesome. So is a free lunch. But a purposeful culture is more important.
Fact: A culture of purpose drives exponential growth.
Finally, get personal. If you treat a millennial like a number they will return the favour. Their job will quickly become nothing more than a way to make their rent payment. They will start living for Friday on Monday and count down the minutes until 5. After a few months of that, they will no doubt have a drunken epiphany and realize that they want more out of my life.
6-8 months in, they will resign. Or worse, they will quit and stay, and become a Dougie or Dorothy-Do-Nothing. That’s not good for you or them.
Millennials were raised to believe they could change the world. They are desperate for you to show them that the work you and the organisation does, matters, even just a little bit. They will make copies, do the grunt work. But they will not do it to help those in the C-Suite to get their bonuses.
They will give you everything they’ve got, but they need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.
To inspire you must show passion. You must show feeling. Progressive behaviour. Positivity. Difference. It was the Dalai Lama who said, ‘In order to carry a positive action we must develop a positive vision.’ These are the traits that people will follow you for, for themselves.