It seems like you started your business a lifetime ago. You look back fondly at the years of hard work, trials and frequent failures. You were a small boat in a large ocean storm, benefiting from your ability to navigate quickly and make changes based on what you saw in front of you.
But things have changed.
Your business is in the awkward growth phase. Your boat has grown significantly to account for new team members added over the years. It’s exciting because you’ve been able to build a much bigger team and hire smart, quality people. All looks good on the surface. You’re experiencing tremendous financial growth as a company, and the hope for the future is bright. Yet it feels as if you’ve come to an inflection point. The work feels harder; the energy your team had just 12 months ago is no longer there. You look back at those uncertain years longingly because even though it wasn’t the same type of success you’ve achieved today, it seemed easier to navigate, and there was less worry. If you failed then, only a few people would be affected; now there are many others depending on you.
Moving the team forward is harder and more overwhelming than it’s ever been. Why is this happening?
Before it was easy to steer your boat and make sure everyone was on board because everyone could see the path and obstacles ahead. Now that you’ve grown to a fleet of ships, it becomes harder to ensure all see the same obstacles. Many of the new team members may not even know where you are headed or why you are going the direction you’re going. The excitement of being a part of this explosive growth has worn off for your people. They are no longer simply excited to be a part of something growing so fast. Your people are now looking for more from their work — and unlike previous moments in your company’s short history, there are no new positions to funnel them into or provide temporary excitement around. It seems like your people are losing motivation.
What can you do to inspire your team?
Your role as a leader is simple in concept and hard in execution. It takes time, effort and energy to be consistent in your actions and how you show up for your team day in and day out. To truly inspire your people, you need to provide them with clarity on where you are going together and the desired future, and context around why you’ve chosen that future. Great leaders realize this and spend time providing clarity and context for their people.
1. Provide clarity.
Providing clarity is more than just letting your people know what your goals are for the next quarter and even more than letting them know the team's or company’s top priorities for the year. Where do you see the team going in the next one to three years?
You need to start thinking that far ahead and paint a picture of the future you see for your team. This may include the type of work you are doing, the number of people, your desired revenue number and so on. By painting this, you give your people something inspiring to go after — it lets them know where you are sailing.
Clarity is crucial, and it’s not enough. You also need to share why you are going after that vision.
2. Give context.
If your people don’t know why they should work their butts off to accomplish a goal, they will start making up their own reasons and stories.
How can your team move forward if they don’t know why they are doing it?
The “why” is deeper and more existential. Why are we in business? Why do we do what we do? Why did you start your company?
At your core, there is a deeper reason than simply to be successful or make money. There is something deeper that’s driven you to put in the long hours, to keep trying even when you’ve failed time after time.
Somewhere along your growth path you may have lost it, or more than likely, you find it hard to articulate in a way you think will inspire your top leaders, but here’s one thing I’ll promise you: Your key leaders are likely in the room with you, onboard the ship you are guiding, because of you and your drive. Whether you’ve articulated it or not, it bleeds from you and is at the core of your company culture, as it’s unconsciously guided so many of your actions. It’s what attracted your top leaders to follow you early on or made them want to leave another company to join you.
It’s not as if you need to pull a purpose out of thin air; rather, it’s more about articulating your “why” that you’ve been living with for years. Now you need to craft it and give it to your people — give them a North Star.
Your “why” will inspire your people to drive forward with the same fervor and energy they did in the early days and give them clarity on where you are planning to go and context as to why you are all going there.
Originally published in Forbes on November 20, 2019