How inspiring am I (still) as a manager?
It's rarely a requirement in job adverts, seldom discussed in the workplace, and has a different meaning for everyone: inspiration. Nevertheless, inspiration is often the reason why employees stay or leave. It is crucial to inspire your employees as a manager, and the only way to do that is by getting inspired yourself and keeping it that way. Klaartje van Gasteren and Kathelijn Loos take you on a journey to find the answer to the question: how do you do that?
"Then they leave"
When you, as a manager, are not inspiring to your employees, they leave. Director Kathelijn Loos, who has worked at Solid Professionals for ten years, and Klaartje van Gasteren, leadership coach and partner of De School voor Transitie (the School of Transition), wholeheartedly agree with this. With De School voor Transitie, Klaartje organises training sessions on how your organisation becomes a secure base. During these training sessions, she invites you to explore how to keep yourself and your colleagues inspired. A secure base culture is a safe working environment where one can make mistakes, realising that it is a must for mutual growth and development. At the same time, there is room for challenges. Only with a secure base culture a manager can start a conversation about inspiration – and its absence – in the workplace.
“Employees don’t leave their job, but their manager, research shows”, says Klaartje. “They leave when they no longer see you and the organisation as a source of inspiration from which they can learn and develop. This applies even more to younger generations.” To younger employees, organisations must immediately show that they are inspiring. “In the past, employees found inspiration in other places, such as associations or churches. The secularisation has led to a shift, and the work environment has become much more important”, Klaartje explains. This is very clear for younger employees, according to Kathelijn. “It’s even conditional. If you no longer make the younger generation feel like they are learning and developing, it’s over.”
Inspiration arises when you are connected with your employees and is present in everything you do and how you do it. It can be very small (for example, by attentively listening to someone’s story) or very large, such as an exciting event with engaging speakers. But it’s important to remember that inspiration means something different to everyone. “There is no one–size-fits-all“, says Kathelijn, after which she adds “unfortunately.” As a result, you can’t ‘do’ or ‘apply’ inspiration. It’s more of a basic attitude that translates into curious behaviour, seeking connection.
Being inspirational yourself
The first step is to continue inspiring yourself. “When I’ve had a remarkable conversation outside the office, I try to bring that energy inside,” Kathelijn explains. “That way, as a manager, I share the inspiring learning moment with my team and surroundings.” She finds inspiration by engaging in conversations with other people. “Their experiences, skills, passion for something I can’t do. That triggers the Pippi Longstocking effect: I’ve never done it, so I think I can do it. Then a spark ignites.” For Kathelijn, it’s also valuable to collaborate with De School voor Transitie. “I get inspiration from the training sessions I attend there because they take me out of my comfort zone.”
Klaartje – who is inspired by encounters with others, reading, role models, and culture – mentions that you can be inspirational in who you are. Klaartje: “Do you know what you stand for and what you truly care about? Inspirational people know who they are and what they want to contribute to the world with it.” You radiate that energy, making you inspiring and serving as an example for your employees. As a result, experts say, employees stay longer, are more motivated, are absent less often, and are better utilising their full potential.
Dare to ask: how inspiring am I to you?
There’s no other way to find out if you are still inspiring. As a manager, you’ll need to start the conversation, so be curious and ask the question. There’s an opportunity for this during the De School voor Transitie training sessions, but how do you do it on a regular workday?
“Many managers are afraid to ask, ‘ How inspiring am I to you?’ Because they don’t know how to deal with the answer”, says Kathelijn. “Those people should ask themselves whether they are still in the right place”. Therefore, the higher up you are in the company, the less feedback you receive. You need to organise your own feedback.
As a director, Kathelijn tries to initiate the conversation about inspiration by asking her employees what they would like to learn and what would make their work still enjoyable in three months. “I should do that more often”, she admits. “When you start talking about inspiration, pleasant conversations usually arise”. Klaartje adds: “It’s about caring and daring – what do you need to challenge yourself? As a manager, you want to challenge others to take action and ask what it takes from you. That part of daring is where inspiration comes in”.
However, don’t you put yourself in a vulnerable position when you ask your employees how inspiring you are to them? “Certainly”, says Klaartje, “but you have to be willing to do so. And the safe foundation to investigate this with your employee must be there”. Imperfection is also allowed again. Kathelijn: “People also get inspired when someone is honest about something not succeeding”. This creates recognition and space to explore when something doesn’t go as expected.
Keep the focus on inspiring yourself
To be able to apply this, it’s all the more important for a busy manager to keep ‘inspiring yourself‘ in mind constantly. “Schedule it“, Klaartje advises, “Not as something to do just once in a while, but on a daily basis. It requires attention to keep inspiring yourself“. At the end of the day, ask yourself what touched you that day. This keeps you curious and conscious. Kathelijn says it doesn’t have to be something big. “It’s often found in the little things. That’s how you grow“. Because a manager ensures that everything gets done, but a leader is someone who inspires employees to think and develop further on their own.