Wednesday, December 2, 2020
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Permission to Inspire

The scope, demands, and complexity of projects that CIOs manage has never been greater. I’ve been in the IT industry for over three decades, and I can attest that the complexity in which we operate, our scope of responsibility, and the expectations on all of us is unprecedented. All businesses are now digital businesses, expecting digital capabilities to transform their business, and the CIO is the leader and orchestrator of the digital business.

No pressure…

To be effective with the breadth and complexity of our responsibilities, we need to rely on others. There’s no debate that we need a competent and motivated team. We all know that, but how often do we consider what our team needs from us?  Our teams are under the same pressure we are. They are often fatigued and operating with low energy. Especially now, I think our teams would tell us they need an inspirational leader. 

They need a leader who is comfortable…(wait for it)…to feel.

I wonder how many people I just made uncomfortable with that statement. Most of us would rather go to the dentist and fill a cavity before talking about our feelings, especially in a work environment. 

We avoid it, yet if we knew that empathy was instrumental, if not foundational, to inspiring our teams, would we, could we, give ourselves permission to feel? 

It’s important to recognize that inspiration comes from a place of empathy.

In my experience, empathetic inspiration from leadership requires three key attributes: authenticity, purpose, and energy.

Authenticity

First, you have to sincerely show up for your team by being authentic. Authenticity requires comfort in being real…consistently. 

It’s you speaking honestly and professionally when someone or something disappoints. It’s you demonstrating empathy when you know how hard someone or a team worked over the weekend to meet a performance objective. It’s being vulnerable, storytelling with emotion, and letting people inside to know more about who you really are and what you believe in (more on this shortly). 

I am surprised when people use phrases like ‘fake it till you make it’. This is cynical thinking and toxic to authenticity. How about ‘vulnerable and real’? When we think about authentic leaders, we think about people who put others first, people who want others to succeed, and are true to the purpose and people they serve.

Purpose

Purpose communicates to ourselves and to others ‘why’. Understanding is a critical pathway to believing, and ultimately to being inspired. Whenever I communicate with my team, I always start with the ‘why’. Why we are here, why we are pursuing objective ‘n’, why we need to speed up, or why we need higher quality outcomes as illustrations. 

When we start with the ‘why’, we are being transparent, demonstrating respect for others, and we are sharing purpose and intentions. People want to believe in a purpose and starting with the ‘why’ leads them to align and believe. When we have a defined purpose, supported by lots of ‘why’ conversations, we can rally people to common beliefs. 

Energy

We need to have to the right energy level to be the best version of ourselves whenever we are engaged with others. Our teams are incredibly observant and are paying attention to our energy level. 

Low energy communicates to our team low engagement, perhaps even low belief, and can lead the team to develop lower confidence in our leadership. Consistent positive energy and engagement buoys confidence and maintains an environment open to feeling, believing, and inspiration. So it’s important we take care of ourselves. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough rest are ways we can maintain consistent energy and excitement.

With all the pressures and challenges our people feel inside and outside our offices, our teams are looking more than ever for strong leadership. When we are authentic, purpose-oriented, and operate with consistent energy, we foster an environment where people can believe and be inspired to do their best, have fun, and generate the results we expect. 

Be that strong inspirational leader. You have permission to feel and permission to inspire.

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Dean Crutchfield, TNCR Contributing CIO
Dean Crutchfield, TNCR Contributing CIO
Dean Crutchfield is a CIO and CISO with over three decades of experience in Information Technology serving technology manufacturers and the SaaS industry. Dean's areas of interest are leadership effectiveness, cyber and product security, and the use of AI/ML inside of security and IT operations.
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