In our work, we are constantly reminded of how close the world now seems compared with when we were growing up. We are filled with hope that comes from a passion for public service. We are inspired by the people we meet, the places we go, and the things we get to do. We are guided by the imperative of making a difference and changing lives.
The conundrum is whether we lever change in the world or the world changes us. Do we shape the future, or are we shaped by fate? Do we make a difference, or is destiny preordained? Are we born to lead, or is leadership acquired? Perhaps it is a bit of each – and we gravitate towards those things we can change and those people we need to motivate.
The leader as motivator creates meaning, energizes, and inspires. Motivation is about answering ‘why’ – why we are going there, why we are doing this. The power of inspiration helps followers grasp the politics of change and collaborate towards greater ends.
Collaboration takes the form of teamwork within organizations. Working together means holding regular meetings and engaging staff. High expectations are realized when leaders encourage the diversity of people and ideas and delegate to self-directed teams. Teambuilding cascades and collaboration thrives when communities of practice are cultivated.
Leaders also doctor our spirit when things do not go according to plan. This goes back to the days of the village witchdoctor, the medicine man, the swami, and the clan soothsayer. The leader as ‘spirit doctor’ interprets events, uses symbols, and celebrates rites and rituals to inspire us to make sacrifices and persist in the face of uncertainty.
Winston Churchill was one of the greatest spirit doctors of the twentieth century. He shepherded the British people through the turbulent uncertainty of World War II. His magic was to interpret events in a way that gave hope and the strength to press on. His June 1940 radio broadcast exhorted victory at the darkest hour against the odds:
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Leaders become spirit doctors for their people by learning to interpret events in ways that create personal meaning. Mahatma Gandhi practiced a different kind of leadership, grounded in the philosophy of non-violent resistance. He said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” His humble servant leadership is the perfect foil to Churchill’s example of the Great Man Theory of motivation.