There are three phases to becoming an inspirational leader and all three require different types of work.
When my business partners and I started In Time Tec in 2009, we worked HARD. We all still had full-time jobs and were working on In Time Tec during any free time we had. We were often up early and going to bed late, spending most of our evenings and weekends in our home offices taking phone calls, closing deals, completing projects; seemingly sacrificing our time with family and friends for the pursuit of this dream. We did this until some of us were in a position to quit our full-time jobs and hire employees. Even then, we didn’t stop working hard. We had to establish infrastructure and operational policies, address HR laws, set the vision and execute on strategy, build competencies, grow revenue, manage the finances, and learn so much.
During all this time, we were also beginning our journey of hard work. Working with other people is always more complex than working alone, because humans are beautifully complex creatures with different experiences and goals and values. Being individual contributors or managers in previous jobs had prepared us to start a business. It had not prepared us to be the kind of inspirational leaders we are today; that happened when we all got very clear about the kind of company we were building and the kind of leaders we needed to be to get us there.
Difference between “working hard” and “doing hard work”
These two phrases are often interchangeable and you might not immediately know the difference. It is an important distinction to recognize as you look at the kind of work you are doing as a leader.
Working hard simply means putting in the hours and completing the required tasks. It requires knowledge and hard skills and often includes long hours, to-do lists, research, and plenty of productivity. It produces the desired results and helps move the needle forward.
On the other hand, doing hard work requires more soft skills and emotional intelligence. It means connecting with others in a way that leaves them touched, moved, and inspired to be more, do more, and have more in life. Hard work transforms human beings for the better and creates a healthy and productive company culture.
Both are required to be successful in your career. Only working hard will ensure you are a great individual contributor, while working hard AND doing hard work will make you a great leader.
There are three distinct phases people who are committed to making a difference will go through as they discover themselves as a leader:
As mentioned above, these people work hard. If you are in this phase on your journey, you are committed to producing great results. You have probably gotten a job that utilizes your skills and education. You are not necessarily entry level but you are not yet leading a team. You often feel the rush of a job well done and other people come to you when they need help solving problems or navigating something new. Sometimes you work overtime and you are constantly looking for ways to stay on top of trends and new education about your area of expertise. You probably enjoy coming to work and feel like you are working hard to contribute to the company in a meaningful way. Your work is important and necessary to the success of the company.
When in this phase, you have two options:
1- Continue to be an Outstanding Individual Contributor
2 - Close the gap and become an Emerging Leader
One day, you might see someone doing work that you want to do and feel inspired. Maybe you overhear a conversation between them and a peer and see the shift in how the other person viewed their work. Or it could be that you feel you are capped out in your current position and start to feel you want more; more impact, more money, more… something. If you start to see that you are not where you want to be, it is time to figure out why; it is time to close the gap.
At this phase in your discovery, you have mastered the art of working hard. Most commonly known as a manager, you know your tasks and have begun the inner work to show up powerfully in your life. Not only do you know your tasks, but you have started creating a strategy for the future of the team or company. You probably have a team of people you are responsible for leading. These people come to you for work problems and sometimes life problems. You are beginning the hard work of shifting your listening and having deep and meaningful conversations. Things are really moving forward in your department or team; goals are being set and met, morale is up, productivity is up. Other people are starting to notice, and they are curious about how you are doing it. You are now the person the outstanding individual contributors are coming to for guidance.
When in this phase, you have two options:
1- Continue to be an Emerging Leader
2 - Close the gap and become an Inspirational Leader
At some point, you may have faced a situation you did not know how to handle. Maybe there was a conversation that ended poorly, or you had a breakdown on your team. You might feel like you are not connecting with the people you are leading in a meaningful way. It is in these moments you realize you don’t currently have the skills and tools to lead in an inspirational way. It is time again to close the gap.
When you reach this point in your journey, working hard is your default state. You complete tasks, set vision, and deliver results without even thinking. You have also done internal work to get complete with yourself, and you are showing up powerfully in your life. Others see you as a true leader and look to you for guidance. This is the phase when you are really making a difference in other people’s lives. You are someone who is operating in complete integrity — you say what you do and you do what you say. You honor your word, and no one questions your motives or intentions. Because of your openness and hard work, you are in a position to influence others to follow the same journey you have been on. In fact, you love helping others become inspirational leaders. Your sense of purpose is no longer tied to what you can accomplish and become but instead to what others are accomplishing and becoming.
This phase is all hard work all the time. And sometimes the hard work in this phase looks like pissing people off because you don’t mind giving people tough love if that’s what is needed to rearrange their souls (to rearrange a soul means to get to the heart of a matter during meaningful conversations in a way that leads to breakthroughs and new ways of being). Those people you are inspiring are not always going to want it for themselves the way you want it for them, but here is when you need to be the strongest stand for them.
There is only one option to move forward in this phase - Continue to learn, grow, and contribute. There is no going back once you are in this phase. You will not want to or allow yourself to go back to just producing results as an individual contributor.
Step one (and only) - Climb the mountain with no top: Once you occur for yourself and others as an Inspirational Leader, you keep going. Every morning, reflect on your being state and every evening reflect on what you created that day. (Read more about my morning and evening rituals here.) Teach others to work hard and do the hard work, make space for creation, and accept yourself and others as a possibility.
There is a progression in this journey: phase one is all working hard. Phase two requires continuing to work hard while also learning about and practicing hard work. Phase three is all about working hard on the hard work. You cannot become an Inspirational Leader without a background of hard work and heart work. Each of our founders, as well as every leader in our company is on this journey. There are different people in different phases, but each of us is committed to closing any gap necessary to be an Inspirational Leader. The impact of having hundreds of people across the globe on the same leadership journey is monumental in moving the needle for our company. Not only does it allow every team member to be fully self-expressed and inspired, it enriches relationships with partners and the communities. Our employees are committed to creating abundance and our partners want to be a part of that.
As you embark on your own journey, remember it is constant and never-ending work so don’t get discouraged. Reach out to other Inspirational Leaders, grow your network of powerful humans, recommit to your purpose and possibilities. Every human has the potential to become an Inspirational Leader; it is just a matter of willingness and openness. If you are willing, if you are open, and if you are constantly learning and growing, you have the ability and power to make the world a better place to live by enabling and empowering other human beings.