Thursday, April 27, 2017

Three Ways a ‘Noble Goal’ Makes You a Significantly Better Leader

Guest post from Brandon Black and Shayne Hughes:

Being a truly great and inspiring leader, who is both effective and respected, is no easy task. Though the job certainly comes with a measure of prestige, every seasoned leader will tell you — it also comes with endless hard work, harsh criticism, and significant stress.

What fuels you to push forward when the pressure is on?

If you’re like the majority of the Western world, you’re probably motivated by greater and greater personal financial success, the yardstick most leaders use to assess their value. Year after year, you work longer hours, pushing yourself to even-higher heights — the next promotion, broader recognition, or another impressive leap in income — only to discover that the “high” of reaching that next level disappears in mere minutes or days.

But our individual success is not what we care most about.

Each of us has a powerful need to positively affect the people and world around us. This need and inspiration is called our “noble goal.” In its simplest form, our noble goal is our personal response to the question: What context, atmosphere, or environment do I want to create for myself and others?

When we remain in the narrow, scarcity mindset of self-focus and self-promotion, we lose our care for others and the broader perspective. When our motivation is exclusively centered on elevating our own “success,” we create an environment of distrust, competition, animosity, and separation.

But, when we connect to a noble goal, it’s clarity inspires us and guides us toward what we really care to bring about in the world, in all domains of our lives – our families, our workplace, our communities, and our society. It is our North Star, and it has the power to guide both our long-term direction as well as our moment-by-moment choices.

At Encore Capital Group, a debt collection company, CEO Brandon Black and his employees decided that “restoring dignity and creating a path toward financial independence” for their customers was a core tenet of their noble goal. To breathe life into that goal, they created a Consumer Bill of Rights that began shaping the essential why in how they interacted with their customers and the very way they thought about their business.  

“People at Encore were passionate about The Consumer Bill of Rights,” says Black. “It gave employees a sense of pride about our company. I never saw that level of enthusiasm for quarterly results or a new strategy.”

And embracing a shared noble goal ultimately delivered positive business returns. As Encore’s team approached their daily work through this new lens, morale increased and collections continued to grow.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. A noble goal inspires you to blaze new trails
Focusing intently on a larger purpose helps inspire you to explore new ideas or try new approaches. It gives you the courage to take risks you might not otherwise dare to.

When Black and his team created the Consumer Bill of Rights, it felt scary and risky to break the mold in an industry known for less than warm and friendly debt collection practices. But ultimately, employees felt inspired and empowered to act from a space of caring. They began humanizing their customers. Instead of acting like adversaries, Encore employees became customer allies, listening to their stories and helping customers rise out of the financial burden (and personal shame) of excessive debt.

As you begin to prioritize caring and empathy over your own personal discomfort, your mental faculties focus on what really matters and how to do it to the utmost of your ability.

2. You look for ways to unleash other people’s potential, not just your own
Early in his role of CEO, Black admits he competed to be the smartest person in the room, to be the one in the spotlight. He thought that was how you led people – how one gained recognition and success. But after identifying his own noble goal, Black developed a new way to lead.

“I learned to value transparency, empathy, and vulnerability as much as business intellect,” said Black. “Today, I’m able to be present with my colleagues, family, and friends; see different possibilities; and create a collective agenda instead of one dominated by my opinions. I believe Encore’s runaway success was directly tied to this shift in management philosophy and culture. I wish I had learned this lesson way back when I started leading people!”

When leaders center on a noble goal, the positive shift is contagious. The collective energy of the team also shifts from self-preservation to focusing on growth, connecting to one another, and co-creating something larger. Every person who steps up creates positive ripples throughout the organization – and, the more senior you are, the more impactful your behavior.

3. You’re able to face criticism with confidence and courage
When the collections industry later came under fire, Encore felt confident they had nothing to hide about how they operate. It didn’t mean they were perfect, but their noble goal helped rouse a solid sense of courage because failing, being judged, or feeling hurt seemed less threatening. They felt secure enough to say to their detractors, “Come take a look and tell us what you find.”

If there were flaws in their system, they wanted to learn about them because it accelerated their ability to fulfill their mission. Criticism never feels good—because it threatens our ego’s desire to be competent, perfect and successful. But when that feedback can help you and your team achieve your noble goal more effectively, the sting of a critique is lessened.

Good news: It’s never too late to embark on this important work.

So, what’s your noble goal?

Below the surface, every leader brims with this incredible generosity, creativity and motivation. You are wholly capable of putting aside your ego’s ambitions to reach for a higher calling. You no longer have to build your life and career at the expense of others or at the expense of genuine personal fulfillment.

The desire to serve a noble goal is in your DNA, and the energy you will feel when you act on this instinct will elevate your focus, increase your enthusiasm, and amplify the impact of your leadership in profound and powerful ways.

Brandon Black retired as CEO and Director of Encore Capital Group in 2013.  He holds an MBA from the University of Richmond and a bachelor’s of business administration from The College of William and Mary.  He is co-author, with Shayne Hughes, of EGOFREE LEADERSHIP:  Ending The UnconsciousHabits That Hijack Your Business. 

Shayne Hughes is President and Culture Change Partners of Learning as Leadership, a San Francisco-based management consultancy, where he specializes in creating corporate cultures of open communication and collaboration. 

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