I have a longstanding passion for motivational or inspirational material. Quick research shows that I am not alone. An actress once compared the inspirational or encouraging words to the daily intake of vitamins. At its most effective delivery, motivation may very well be the crutch that moves one from stasis to breakthrough.
“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
The motivational words literally cover every subject in life; from grief counselling; encouragement when one is low; forgiveness; celebration of hard and smart work; children, and go all the way to interrogating the choices of friends we make.
In Thick Face, Black Heart, Chin-Ning Chu observes that “the objective of many human motivational books, tapes, and seminars is to inspire the participants to be enthusiastic about their lives and to move them from a state of inertia into a state of activity. These tools are useful but incomplete.”
The different expertly-constructed words of encouragement, by themselves, do not change circumstances. Rather, they reassure us – in whatever situation we find ourselves – that we are not alone. Their effect is complete when we realize, that like other people, past and present, we too can find a way out of the quagmire.
They rekindle the search for what is good; respect for one another; values which hold us together, and quite appropriately, in the era when climate change is a big topic, remind us to respect the environment.
“People have an appetite for well-expressed wisdom, motivational or otherwise. The appeal lies in good wordsmithing, motivational psychology and a measure of self-selection…the message that someone else believes you can achieve what you want to achieve can be a powerful incentive to try harder.”
Jim Wallis writes in The Soul of Politics that, “it is possible to evoke in people a genuine desire to transcend our more selfish interests, and respond to a larger vision that gives us a sense of purpose, direction, meaning and even community. We need to articulate clearly the essential moral character of the many crises we confront, the connections between them, and the choices we must make.”
Writers and leaders of business organizations, associations, the church and other societal groupings constitute some of the principal originators and users of motivational words. They acknowledge and contextualize human frailty, while reaffirming the conviction that the human spirit triumphs over all setbacks.
Consider this for example: “it does not really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your laps. The drill drills on.”
This imagery is taken from one of my feared places, namely, the dentist’s rooms. I wish to use it here as an appropriate comment on, and characterization of, leadership. However challenging, difficult or painful circumstances may become, leadership does not abdicate responsibility.
Rosalynn Carter writes that “a great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go; but ought to be.”
While critical and judgemental voices will assault leaders with dissenting noises, the challenge for leadership is to retain focus on its mandate. If anything, the noises must inspire leadership to seek higher levels of collaboration, trust and respect. Eyes must remain fixed on the mission-driven ideal.
I have received useful lessons on how to advance shared values from videos of police work in Virginia and Houston in America. Seemingly mundane, the footage shows police and the clergy joining hands in street and neighbourhood patrols. The initiative is referred to as “smoothing law enforcement’s rough edges.”
The videos seem to respond to the pastor who remarked that, “if the church won’t come to the streets, the streets will come into the church.”
The Virginia police chief says the combined approach follows a realization that policing on its own does not go far enough in addressing the desperate and disparate needs which drive youths onto the streets. Accordingly, he adds that law enforcement operations have immensely benefited from the infusion of patience, concern and understanding.
After apprehending the apparent gangsters and loiterers, the police surrender them to the clergy, who share stories of hope with the youngsters. The church ceases to be a walled building; police work is not a mystery anymore. This is a show of adaptive leadership in action.
The combined operations also reflect the rudiments of dynamic leadership. It cannot be denied that when yesterday’s solutions become ineffective, leaders with a genuine interest in their flock will examine newer and bolder ways of addressing problems.
The police say the involvement of the clergy imbues their work with a higher degree of acceptability. It is a classic nexus of what needs to be done (politics) and what the average person believes should be done (morality).
Having taken notice of their weak points, the police adjust the style in which they “reach the communities; build capacities for their organization, and make full use of the positive feedback.” Together with the clergy, they revive the spirit of community.
In circumstances where some form of change is always in the air, effective leadership cannot only seek appropriate (at times, knee-jerk) responses to challenges. It should go beyond wielding authority, and seek to empower other stakeholders.