Who has inspired the best in you?” I have asked this question to hundreds of executives and senior managers. The answers vary, with some people going back to their early life in school and in college; others talk about colleagues in the workplace.
My favourite personal story is of Kamla Devi our new Hindi teacher in class X. As a child Hindi was my weakest subject as I came from a state in the country’s north east. My Hindi teachers were understanding and had empathy for me. Throughout the year Kamla Devi would catch something right in my Hindi. She would say, “Look here. What you have written in this passage reminds me of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Madhushala. Have you read it?” By the end of the year my father was getting tired searching for books that were being prescribed for a BA degree in Hindi, in the lanes opposite Old Delhi railway station. In my board examination I scored 73 per cent in Hindi and that was a turning point in my life. I realised, if I can get 73 per cent in Hindi, I could just about do anything I put my mind to.
In my workshops with executives and senior managers of various organisations, I ask them to describe the attributes or characteristics of the people who have inspired the best in them. Some of the characteristics that emerge are:
They believe in your potential
The above is true in most cases in spite of the fact that there is often no past track record to justify this belief. A lot of people give examples of how they are inspired by the faith placed in them, and how they stretch to live up to that faith. This also reinforces the power of high expectations.
They are able to build trust in the relationship
Even when they do something which may not make sense to you at that point of time e.g. being transferred to a less desirable location, you are convinced that they have your best interest in their heart. In most cases they genuinely care for you.
They role model the behaviour they want you to exhibit
In most cases, the people who inspire the best in you do not ask you to do something which they themselves are not prepared to demonstrate. Therefore, there is credibility in what they say. When I commented on the good handwriting of one person in a workshop, he shared how his father would not accept any work done by him with poor handwriting. Needless to say his father himself had immaculate handwriting.
Sometimes, they challenge you
In a large group there are always examples of someone being challenged and confronted in a manner which provokes him/ her to give his/ her best. Even in these cases there is an underlying level of trust which enables the confrontation to be effective. For example, one person who kept on frequently changing jobs was asked by his friend, “How long will you keep running away?” This was a turning point in his life, and his behaviour changed dramatically after that.
What comes out repeatedly is that the people who inspire the best in you seldom spend too much time teaching or training you. You do the hard work. John Whitmore, in his book Coaching for Performance, identifies the essence of good coaching as ‘building awareness’ and enabling the person being coached to take ‘responsibility’ for change.
This is exactly what Kamla Devi and countless other examples of people who inspire us to give our best do. This is what we do when we inspire others to give their best.
The author is CEO of The Great Place to Work® Institute, India. Views expressed are personal.