As we have seen in recent weeks, great leaders inspire people with the power of vision and the prospect of possibilities. Great leaders also have a knack for generating great ideas. But inspiration and ideas are not enough to get the job done. Implementation matters and that takes both experimentation and organization. It takes experimentation to know which ideas work. It takes organization to put the best ones into practice. Sound attractive? Read on.
I have been writing about evocative leadership for two months now, and we have a ways to go. Why am I concerned with “evocative” leadership? Consider the root meanings of the two words:
Evocative: Calling to mind, bringing into existence, eliciting emotions, causing to appear, summoning into action, finding one’s voice (from Latin ēvocāre, to call, akin to vōx, voice)
Leadership: To go before or with to show the way, to conduct by holding and guiding, to take the directing or principal part, to influence or induce, to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, to serve to bring to a place (from Old English lǽdan, causative of līthan, to go, travel).
When you put those two words together, you end up with the following sense when it comes to leadership: Inspiring people to move forward together in a desired direction. The combination of “evocative” with “leadership” suggests a certain mechanism of action. Instead of bossing people around and telling them what to do, evocative leaders assist people to find their voice and to happily engage in the work at hand.
If you are a leader and your people are not contributing and happy, then you are not an evocative leader. If you work for a leader and you are not contributing and happy, then you are not working for an evocative leader. This is not to say that all credit and blame fall at the feet of any one leader, especially since we are all leaders from whatever position we hold. But it is to say that leaders hold a special responsibility for organizing people to get things done.
And the best way to do that is through the empowerment principle. The more we let go of our positional power as leaders the more power we generate in our people and organizations. The relationship is necessarily reciprocal. The more power we claim for and hold on to ourselves, the less power others will feel and exercise in our presence.
Yet many people think and act as if leaders are the ones with power, while followers are the ones without power. No wonder leaders are so often stressed out, overwhelmed, and ineffective. When we take on too much power, responsibility, and control for ourselves, we discourage others from sharing the load and engaging their creativity. The task of leadership then becomes unbearable.
How tragic! If leadership is about anything, it is about getting things done through people. Yes, leaders inspire. Yes, leaders come up with great ideas. But unless leaders are able to channel that inspiration and implement those ideas, then we really aren’t leaders at all. Implementation matters, and that’s why great leaders are evocative leaders. Unless we evoke the full engagement of our people and organizations in meeting challenges and achieving goals, there’s no way to get the job done.
Great leaders understand this on deep and profound levels. There’s no way for any one person to know everything there is to know about the work at hand or even the strategy to follow. It takes an all-hands-on-deck mentality when it comes to organizational effectiveness. That’s especially true in this day and age. The increasing complexity and pace of change are legendary, with no end in sight. Unless everyone rallies to the cause, there’s no way to keep up.
It takes more than just willingness, enthusiasm, and job satisfaction, however, to get things done. It also takes organization. What is the workflow? Who does what when? How do inputs get tracked through the system without getting lost?
These and many other such questions may seem quite basic, as though we were describing an entry-level course in organizational management, but failing to take care of these things have been the undoing of many a leader. When people are not clear on methodology and procedures, when systems are not designed to support organizational effectiveness, when ideas are never field tested and codified, then implementation suffers.
That’s why leaders encourage people not just to come up with new ideas but to prototype them to see what works. It’s like conducting a science experiment to test your hypothesis. That’s the best way to advance one’s knowledge in the field. And it’s the best way to move from ideas to implementation. Instead of moving directly from brainstorming to implementation, field testing represents an intermediate yet essential step.
Case in point: During the past week I have been in Albuquerque, New Mexico attending a coaching conference known as a Conversation Among Masters. During this time, several of us from the Board of Governors of the International Association of Coaching have been field testing a new slogan for our organization: Expanding the Path to Coaching Mastery.
Fortunately, the reactions have been great. But we would have learned just as much if the reactions had been discouraging. We could have talked forever about the slogan, but without actually running it by other people • without actually field testing the idea with our target market • we would never know for sure. Now that we know, we can more readily and confidently move on to the next step of incorporating that slogan into our organizational life and work.
Brainstorm • prototype • implement. That is the process evocative leaders follow for getting things done through people. We empower people to experiment with ideas, to adopt the best ones, and to organize their work accordingly. Evocative leaders are facilitators of both innovation and organization through empowering the people we serve.
Coaching Inquiries: How does work get done in your organization? What power do people have to come up with new ideas and to try them out? Once a new idea is field tested, how well does the work get organized? What clarity would be helpful when it comes to roles and workflow? What systems would make the work easier? How can you bring that spirit into your leadership and organization today?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Thanks for today’s Provision. Ideas Matter. I turned to you for inspiration because I had to miss church, and am I glad I did! You’ve given me lots of good ideas on how to conduct an upcoming retreat for my senior staff. After reading this Provision, I think I’ll use some AI techniques to get their ideas flowing. Do you have other past Provisions that might address AI methods for conducting such gatherings? (Ed. Note: See my series on Appreciative Inquiry from 2005.)
I very much enjoy reading Provisions every Sunday morning, and am learning a lot. Thank you for that.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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