Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Leadership Soft Power

Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term "soft power" to describe how nations can achieve their aims through persuasion and the ability to attract.  Our world bristles with nukes.  Testosterone fueled fighter pilots duel at supersonic speeds over rocky outcrop flashpoints.  Drones have 007 licenses to kill and volatile dictators strut, posture and provoke. Hmm…having a soft power alternative to World War Three sounds attractive. 
Closer to home, can soft power in our businesses achieve persuasion and attract cooperation?  There are plenty of testosterone fueled dogfights going on in the C-suites amongst colleagues and between Divisions.  Corporate leaders strut and posture, while middle managers whip the troops to do more, faster with less.  Power, status, authority, rules, regulations, contracts etc., keep people in line, but none of this engages them.  Time for some fresh thinking!
Here are four soft power plays that persuade and attract the team to outperform the competition.
Play One:  work on our communication.  The WHY of the vision as well as the what and the how need to be explained in ways that inspire the troops to care. We own the world we create, so include our people in creating the vision.  Plenty of corporate offices have elaborately framed Vision, Mission, Values statements that hardly anybody can recall.  How do you live it, if you can’t remember it?  Well you don’t and this is a failure of communication.  The Ritz Carlton Hotel chain became famous for having every shift start their day by re-visiting their WHY.  Good organisation creates good communication.  How hard is it to get all of your work units starting with a daily WHY recharge?  It takes a few minutes and costs almost nothing.
Play Two: tap into the emotional wellsprings of engagement.  Intention is important here.  Following Douglas McGregor’s Theory X, Theory Y staff motivation models, if we see our people as lazy, inept, untrustworthy then we have to ferret out their failures and fix them.  If we see our team as basically good, loyal people doing the best they can, then we can switch our gaze to becoming a "good" finder to recognise them, rather than to scold them.  So leaders need to take a Theory Y "happy pill" every morning before work and decide they will be finder of good work and praise it, rather than becoming a Theory X carping dud detector.  Try it for a week and see the difference.
Play Three: emphasise "valuing your people" rather than parroting the "corporate values".  Our global engagement survey, validated in Japan, showed that the feeling of being valued was the trigger point sparking inspiration, empowerment, enthusiasm and confidence.  Innovation is directly correlated to engagement, because if you don’t care, why make it better? Communicating to each individual "you are valued" is using soft power.
Play Four: ask questions instead of giving direct orders.  Based on their hard skills credentials, supervisors believe they have super vision, so they can tell people what to do.  One brain’s output, no matter how good, is still only producing a narrow sliver of ideas.  Actually the further up the chain of command you fly, the more distant you become from the action and informed perspectives.  Engaging people in the front line, through valuing their input, produces outperformance.  Don’t miss it – the crowdsourcing of ideas from the team is a soft power play that pays off. 
The end is nigh for those organisations who don’t introduce Professor Nye’s soft power play into their leadership armory.  As we say in Japan, "time flies like an arrow", so let’s all commit to going "soft" and persuading and attracting our way to success.
Action Steps
Start with the WHY before explaining the What and the How
Become a daily Theory Xer, seeking out the positives in your people
Ensure your people feel they are genuinely valued every time, all the time
Become an "ask" rather than "tell" leader
Commit to persuade and attract your way to success
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