I want to continue to riff on a theme I introduced in my last Leading Thoughts. It’s the theme of how our work environments inspire us—or not!
I was reading some reflections by the eminent broadcaster of decades ago, David Brinkley. He was one of the Anderson Coopers or Wolf Blitzers of his day, only bigger.
In recalling the great early days of radio, he taught me something I did not know. At NBC in those days, announcers on shows that aired after 6:00 p.m. had to wear tuxedos. Remember, this was radio. The audience could not see these announcers. Yet, they were required to wear tuxedos.
This seems excessive, doesn’t it? Yet the reasoning was that though the audience could not see these announcers, the announcers could see themselves. Seeing themselves in tuxedos, broadcasting in tuxedos, would elevate them. It would create a culture of elegance and professionalism for people at the top of their game doing their best. In other words, what they wore and saw made them better.
The reason for this is that we humans are visceral animals. We feel as much as we think, perhaps more. We feel a room, an experience, even the sense of being with a person often more than we have thoughts about it. And the impression of our feelings lasts longer than the imprint of our thoughts.
The wise leader knows how to use this. I’ll use coaches as an example. I have a tiny bit of experience in NFL team locker rooms and clubhouses. These places are motivational palaces. There are inspiring sayings everywhere—on walls, on cups, even on jock straps. Past victories are depicted in every way possible. Team colors prevail, inspiring music blares, and records of achievement are writ large. Usually a trophy case is at the center of it all. Again, this is because we humans—athletes in particular—are visceral animals for whom more is caught than is taught, for whom as much is felt as is taken in through rational channels.
By contrast, I was recently in a friend’s brand-new multi-story office building. It is huge and expensive. The first floor, the visitor’s floor, is beautiful and inspiring. Yet the upper floors where the work is done is cavernous and bare. Warrens of cubicles adjoin each other in vast rooms often with nothing at all on the walls. No inspiration. No nod to the emotional, visceral nature of people. Nothing to elevate, inspire, stir, energize. No modern version of NBC’s tuxedos.
Think for a moment of the most successful forces in the world. Armies. Sports teams. Organizations that function like armies and sports teams. You see a pattern. Those who know how to rouse the soul, call out the best, establish a vision, set people aflame in pursuit of that vision, and build dynamic, motivated teams—these people succeed.
The exact opposite of this, in my experience, are the government offices I often visit in DC. No thought for design, communication, or “human resources” for the soul, for calling out the best, for inspiring or rousing to great heights. No surprise that the US government is one of the least productive organizations on earth.
Ponder this, my dear leader. Think about your leadership style, your work environment, your care for your people. They are souls in bodies, not animals. Serve them. Awaken them. Incite them. Help them be their best in the service of a noble cause. This is what great leaders do.