I just completed a project with a new client. We met when I did another project for his organization last year. Thankfully this is how I get most of my work. This project was complex, high stakes, involved a very important client of theirs, and working with some of their senior leaders. For me the project was interesting and it gave me an opportunity to learn more about their business, people and industry. Usually it doesn’t get any better than that. Except in this instance, it does because I also got to work with a leader who brought out the best in me and inspired me to work above and beyond what I needed to do. He motivated a ton of discretionary effort.
Discretionary effort is a largely untapped goldmine of the best, most inspired and innovative contribution that your employees, under the right circumstances and leadership, provide to your business for free. You pay them to do their job. You can’t really pay them for their discretionary effort because it is priceless. Leaders who can evoke this through their behavior, words and actions, are able to tap into what I believe is the holy grail of leadership.
So, what did this client do? For starters, he:
Halfway through the project I told my husband about how I felt and how motivating it was to work with this client (of course keeping client name, etc. anonymous). Hubby looked at me and said, “Wow, and now there is no way you are going to disappoint this guy.” Bingo! That’s the secret sauce! I would be mortified if this guy didn’t love me and the work I was delivering.
You get the picture. This is a guy most smart people would charge up a steep hill for regardless of how difficult it is.
Are there drawbacks with this inspirational leadership? Yes, there are. Some people aren’t worthy of it and they take advantage of it and instead of getting their discretionary effort they use it as an excuse to do less. Some folks aren’t wired for it – they don’t need much recognition. But I don’t see either of these scenarios as often, especially with top talent, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. Because most of us show up wanting to do our best work. The way we lead can light a fire that brings out the best contribution or it can turn people off: full on commitment or half-hearted compliance. In the long run, which do you think it better for your business?
Oh, and there is one more drawback if you are a consultant, you feel pretty bummed when the project ends.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.