Provoking Greatness | Book Review

"Passion, at its core, is directed energy." (p. 148)

Misti Burmeister opens (p. 1) with "What wakes people up to the greatness that exists inside of them?" Very similar questions launch our Academy Leadership motivation workshops. Burmeister, like Dan Pink, researched the science behind motivation, finding five commonalities she calls VOICE (p. 3):

V       Vision               Painting a clear picture of an ideal future that inspires people
                                   into action

O       Ownership       Accepting full responsibility for results

I        Intentions        Being purposeful about intended outcomes

C       Community      Fostering environments where people feel connected to one

E       Energy              Having passion and unstoppable drive at the highest level
                                   within a company

Not unlike Mark Crowley (see Lead from the Heart), Burmeister informs us her leadership strategies require heart (p. 4). In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown makes the connection between successful leadership and vulnerability (p. 5). This review focuses on alignment between Burmeister's VOICE and related Academy Leadership workshops, particularly common teachable points of view. Section highlights are found on pages 34, 77, 118, 146 and 174, respectively.

Vision | Personal Leadership Philosophy

Why don't more leaders tap into the inexhaustible inspiration (p. 7) created by such visions? Because, according to Burmeister, getting clarity around one's vision takes time. Think about the process of sharing one's Personal Leadership Philosophy. More often than not, when asked during a first coaching session: "Who have you shared your leadership philosophy with?" the response is silence.

Sharing a detailed outlook or vision doesn't happen overnight, it is a leadership process, and it's not about us. As Capital One CEO Rich Fairbank put it, your vision needs to tap into something bigger than you, rather than chase your own greatness (p. 12). Burmeister shares stories about Zappos, The Container Store & Honest Tea, which were all started by a desire to make something better (p. 17).

The best way to start is deeply knowing ourselves and what our purpose really is (think Energize2Lead profile and My Leader's Compass workshops). Fewer than 20 percent of leaders have a strong sense of what drives their own individual purpose (p. 20). Burmeister asks us to define (pp. 25-26) our summit - or where we are taking others? To do so:

• Do your homework
• Go big
• Acknowledge
• Electrify
• Reinforce

Each of these steps correspond to outlining a leadership philosophy, and should address what a multiple generational workforce thirsts for. Just consider the havoc that demographic differences alone can wreak on a workplace (p. 32). Contrary to popular belief, conflict does not stem from our differences. It's a result of our insecurities, or perceptions as Jennifer Deal revealed in Retiring the Generation Gap. Our vision and philosophy offer motivational clarity.

Ownership | Accountability

Delegation, and subsequently, ownership, lead to improved accountability. Additionally, Burmeister finds that accountability (pp. 35-36), or provoking greatness requires:

• Owning your beliefs
• Owning your own greatness
• Owning your part in bringing forth their greatness
• Owning your results -- and theirs
• Empowering your team to take ownership of their greatness and their results

In our Leader's Compass workshops, among the best leader characteristics shared are fun and having a sense of humor. It matters. You can't keep people fearful and then expect them to react with kindness (p. 49). And that's expensive. Work-related stress costs U.S. companies more than $300 billion annually as a result of accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, and health care costs (p. 49).

Taking a continuous stance as coach is a great way to start. According to Zig Ziglar's research, most people's self-talk is about 77 percent negative (p. 56). This suggests a coaching cadence in proportion to the required positive reinforcement necessary for improvement is in order. Burmeister suggests we perform an empowering action three times a day, offering the following examples (pp. 58-59):

• Delegate
• Stop attending important meetings alone
• Help them reach their career ambitions
• Tell them how their contributions matter
• Speak up when your team has room to grow
• Reward successes
• Help them keep learning
• Volunteer together
• Make connections
• Relate to them

Many of us, in particular baby boomers, were not brought up that way, or have witnessed very different examples. Most leaders are too busy watching their own backs to realize that they should be showing their cards -- openly discussing their fears and explaining the situation (p. 63). 

Intentions | Coaching & Asking Questions

Burmeister again emphasizes the importance of continuous coaching. Those who provoke greatness (p. 73) ask "Who am I being that is (or is not) causing those around me to be great?" They are particularly deliberate when it comes to:

• Vision
• Values
• Culture
• Growth
• Employee Development

How many times have we seen slick posters proclaiming values while those in positions of trust flagrantly display otherwise? As Rich Fairbank (p. 77) puts it: "As a leader, the most important thing is not what you articulate about the culture, it's the behaviors and the values that you show." Those in our trust usually want and expect for us to "walk the talk" before we have credibility.

The best coaching is two-way; or put another way, good leaders seek feedback. Yet most leaders would rather have a root canal than a one-on-one with an employee to discuss what's going well and what needs improvement (p. 83).

As many of us have practiced in coaching workshops, great coaching means great questions. Burmeister offers (p. 106) a terrific set:

• What do you enjoy most about your career so far? What's not working so well, and why?
• In what ways/areas are you doing very well?
• How can you step up your game?
• What experiences and/or skills would you like to gain, and how can you create opportunities for yourself?
• If you could do any job, what would it be?
• What do you like most about our company?
• What would you like to be doing more of, and how can I help you?
• What's most important to you in your career?
• Where would you like to be in five years? Why?

Rich Fairbank (pp. 110-11) sums it up:

"I find almost a perfect correlation between the trajectory of people at Capital One and their seeking of feedback, because it's this restless desire to get better. Yet so many people don't take advantage of that because it means being vulnerable, and people feel uncomfortable being vulnerable."

Community | Communication & Feedback

Despite the ubiquity of the internet and social media, a genuine thirst for association exists in most workplaces. Not surprisingly, companies wanting to attract and retain highly engaged, passionate, dedicated people must fulfill one of our core human drivers, and that's a need for connection (p. 119). How does your leadership philosophy stimulate this? Not just a relating to you as a leader, but in the broadest context?

A Gallup Q12 survey asked to rate the degree to which each of the following statements are true (pp. 123-124):

1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. As work, opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities to work and learn and grow.

Companies scoring in the top half on Gallup's Q12 employee-engagement survey are nearly twice as successful as those in the bottom half. Connection doesn't just make work more worthwhile, it translates to the bottom line. For a real-world example look at Zappos, offering $100 to any prospective employee who does not accept a job offer, and up to $1,000 to any employee who quits (p. 128). Where would you and your organization come out in such a survey?

No wonder Zappos is one of the fastest-growing Internet retailers of all time. That's what happens when you put people before rules. That's what happens when leaders put community and connection at the center of their business plan (p. 145).

Energy | E2L

Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work: Maximizing your Psychological Capital for Success, reports those happiest at work (p. 150):

• Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
• Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
• Take ten times less sick leave
• Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much

How do we foster this? Burmeister advises we imagine the essence of energy is having the amount you need to do the things that are important to you (p. 147), and that none of us has enough energy to do everything we want to do by ourselves (p. 161).

If we accept that, then (think of Setting Leadership Priorities or Energy Management workshops) we may accept genuine leadership activities as our top priorities rendering a large number of daily events lower priority activities.

Burmeister helps us establish our leadership priorities (p. 163-164):

Step 1 -- Think Big Picture | What's the most important outcome you want in your career? What are you working hard to achieve, and why?

Step 2 -- Break It Down | What's the most important outcome you're committed to achieving this year in your career or business? What will be different as a result of achieving this goal?

Step 3 -- Now Break It Down Some More | What are the three most important tasks that need to be completed this month in order to achieve your long- and short term goals?

Step 4 -- Call in Reinforcements | Who can help you complete the tasks listed in Step 3, or at the very least, help you make progress on them? If you're needed for any or all of it, ask yourself, "Why?" Then find a way to hand off responsibility, and give your team permission to make mistakes and learn.

Step 5 -- Dream Bigger, and Go Back to Step 1 | Once you start down this path, you will free up your time to envision bigger opportunities for yourself and your team, and to start more projects that tap into your ever-increasing passion. Free yourself to dream bigger, and then find the right people to help make those dreams a reality.

This requires daily vigilance, as we'll need to avoid the energy suckers: Meetings, Events, Activities & People (p. 165-166).

Final Thoughts

Burmeister's enthusiasm leaps from each page of this book. Stay connected with her at:

Note: Misti Burmeister generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | March 2017