Meet Bill Strickland. He is the President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and delivers educational and cultural opportunities to students and adults within a culture that fosters innovation, creativity, responsibility and integrity. But perhaps more importantly, “Bill is a genius because he sees the inherent genius in everyone.” – Jeff Skoll (first president of eBay, Founder and Chairman, Skoll Foundation). Bill uses his ability to spot genius in others and his belief in the power of a vision of hope to transform the lives of thousands of people.
So why am I introducing you to Bill? In past posts, I have talked about the importance of simple, repeatable processes in creating a culture of continuous improvement. And while I believe creating and implementing these processes is critical to your success, equal time needs to be spent on the role people play in creating and improving these processes. Bill is world renown for his ability to inspire others to achieve more than they think is possible and become positive agents for change. And while Bill’s primary goal is not to engage people in continuous improvement, we can learn a lot from his approach to motivating people to take action and accomplish lofty goals.
Based on Bill’s experience working in inner cities, “you have to change the way people see themselves before you can change their behavior.” As long as people see themselves as victims of change or inconsequential to the change, they become disengaged and create barriers between themselves and the ideal environment they desperately need and want. If you want people to break out of current habits, you must first create an expectation of positive results before you can motivate people to undertake the actions necessary to realize the results. This is a subtle, but important point. You have to change the way people think about themselves before you can hope to change the way they behave…and if you don’t change the way they behave, you can’t create a culture of continuous improvement.
So how can you start to change the way people think about themselves?
First, by realizing that each of us thinks in pictures and uses these pictures to tell ourselves stories about how the world works. These stories form a narrative of how I think about my environment and more importantly, my ability to change it. If you want to change the way people think, you need to change the stories people tell themselves by creating and reinforcing the right pictures in their head. To help do this, find examples of people in your organization doing great work, creating innovative ideas and inspiring others. Bring these examples to life with photos, testimonials, and public recognition. The better you are at promoting these pockets of brilliance, the more successful you will be creating a new story for the organization to tell itself.
Our role as leaders is to create pictures of hope, confidence, purpose, inspiration, and action. More importantly, our goal is to impart a picture of success and belief that each individual can positively affect their environment through the engagement of their hearts and minds in the process of continuous improvement. There is nothing more powerful than a person who believes in their ability to influence the future, armed with the skills and tools necessary to do so.