What does inspiration really mean, and how do we get more of it for ourselves and spark more of it in others? In this webinar from our series of Online Positivity Hours with the JCC in Manhattan, executive coach and leadership consultant Val Williams offers three keys to effectively inspiring others. Along the way, she shares personal stories, explores the “elevation effect” and other positive psychology research, and tells a poignant parable about a butterfly that may stick with you forever.
Highlights from the Conversation
Val will share three ways to practice inspiration every day, and you’ve got to listen in to hear what those are. Whether you are a corporate executive, a parent, a teacher, a leader of your own life, a friend, a sister, a mother or a father, or all of the above. Val Williams is an MCC (Master-Certified Coach) and executive coach and a specialist in accelerating senior executive development. She holds a Master’s degree in counseling psychology from Boston University, is a graduate of the Wholebeing Institute certificate program in positive psychology—of which I am partaking now and I’m just loving it. And Val has coached senior corporate executives for over 19 years to increase their impact by strengthening their influence and building a powerful executive presence. As a former healthcare executive herself, Val has led an operations team of over 700 people. Her work focuses on providing senior executive leaders and their teams with the tools and practices they need to achieve the most beneficial impact. I welcome to the call Val Williams. You guys are in for a treat. Val and I met earlier and had such a good time. And I can’t wait for her to share with us her PowerPoint and her perspective. Hey, Val, how did you get affiliated or even hear about Wholebeing Institute?
So, as executives do, I went to a training class about leadership, as a student, and the teacher of the class was very inspiring and we were talking about new leadership concepts. And I was like, this is what I want to do. This is the part of the job that I like, I like being able to feel alive and help others and empower people. I just loved it. So I walked away feeling like I’m inspired, I want to do this. Now I want to get into leadership development. But then you know, you go, you get inspired, you go back to work, and I’m like, oh, but I can’t do this, like, I got a job. And I definitely had that feeling of who leaves a great corporate job? I can’t leave. I went through this period, this up-and-down period after that, of being inspired, and then, I don’t know if I can do it. I then talked to a mentor of mine, and I’m like, I want to do leadership development. I want to quit my corporate job. But I can’t because this corporate job makes me successful. And my mentor, she was inspired, because she said to me, “I know, Val, you want to be successful, but by whose standards?” And I found that to be inspiring, like she was saying you could live life by your own standards. So then I’m up again, like, maybe I can do this. But then I said, No, I can’t quit my job, I’ve got to pay bills.
So I go home and talk to my husband. And I’m like, you know what, I think I want to do leadership development. I want to quit my job. And my husband said, I believe in you, if you want to, I will pay the bills. And I’m like, Whoa, okay, um, I think I can do this. But then so I’m inspired again. But then I’m like, ah, but what if I fail, because had the feeling of, I don’t know if I’m good enough to do this.
Finally, I talked to my parents, because I was like, my parents are proud of me, you can’t quit a corporate job to do something you’re not even sure you can do. And I remember talking to my mom, and I said, “Mom, I really want to do leadership development. It excites me. It’s wonderful. But what if I fail?” And my mom said, “If you fail, we’ll still love you.” So the end of the story is so then I go to my boss, and I say, “I decided to quit my job, I’m gonna do something else.” And my boss said, “Oh, you’re just under stress. You need to go on vacation, you’re not sure.” So I go off for three or four days to the Bahamas for the weekend. And that was the final inspiration, the sun, the sand of the Bahamas. And then I come back to my boss, and I say, “Okay, now I’m really sure.” And then I quit my job.
If we decide we’re going to be open to inspire others, and to be inspired ourselves, I think it’s the key to our future. I think that’s what’s at stake. Because think about it for right now: We’re creating the new reality, whatever that new reality will be for each of us. For each of us, it’s going to be different. So why not create that new reality from an uplifted place? So if that’s the definition of inspiration, then as we create our new normal, our new reality, what we’re going to do next, wouldn’t it be great if we can create it from that place of feeling uplifted, and uplifting each other? No matter what we decide to create, I just think it’ll come up to be more positive, if it’s from that place.
Let me talk about the elevation effect for a moment. Jonathan Haidt’s research says the elevation effect means that when we actually just observe other people being at their best, that alone will inspire us to want to be our best. So it’s not just a good idea to be inspired—you being inspired will help somebody else. One of my best examples of this is where children can teach us something. A quick example, one of my friends whose niece at the time was six years old. And he and I are just chatting at some kind of a family event and his niece is jumping up and down on the bed, and she’s saying to us, “Look, look, I want to show you, I want to show you what I can do.” And she’s jumping up and down. Very cute, but you know, how you’re trying to have a conversation with another adult? And you’re like, “Okay, that’s great.” And she says, “Come on, I want to show you.” And so he says to her, “Okay, sweetheart, we’ll we’ll see it in a little while.” And so then you’re thinking like, Oh, I hope you know her feelings aren’t hurt. You know what she did? She said, “Oh, okay, I’ll show myself.” And then she kept jumping. She decided, I’ll just show myself. I felt the elevation effect by watching her. I’m like, this kid is great. She’s not waiting for anybody else to do anything for her. She’s saying, I’ll inspire myself. So that’s our first step. Inspire ourselves.
So shall we go a little bit further to see how can we inspire other people? I’m going to give three suggestions. And this is the first one, that if you want to inspire other people, the first thing to know is you’ve got to have a light touch, like butterflies. So when you’re trying to inspire somebody else, you’re not going to like hit him over the head with your positive affirmations or anything. It’s got to be light. How many of you have noticed that when you try to give people a lecture, like “Just think positive” or “Don’t worry about that, don’t feel bad,” that doesn’t work.
I was in a group situation in a personal development class and we were all talking about careers and bosses and one of the women in the room had a problem with her boss. It was about 15 of us there and we all know each other fairly well and she’s talking about her difficult boss and not sure what she should do, and then suddenly everybody starts jumping in. Fourteen other people start jumping in, saying “Here’s what you should do with the boss,” and “I remember the time when I had a boss like that, here’s what I did” and “No, you should do this” and pretty soon the woman who asked the original question she’s not even part of the conversation because everybody else is jumping in saying you should do this, you should do that. Sometimes we so want to rescue somebody when they seem in distress but we’re not actually helping them go through what they have to go through.
I’m going to read you a story now. I would like to give credit but it’s anonymous; I don’t know who wrote this. So everybody just settle back, I’m gonna read you a short little story. This is the butterfly story. So a man found a cocoon of a butterfly and one day a small opening appeared in the cocoon. So the man sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole in the cocoon. Then the butterfly seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared that it had gotten as far as it could and it couldn’t go any further. Then the man decided to help the butterfly so he took a pair of scissors and he snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily but it had a swollen body and small shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time but neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly and eventually died. What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening was nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If nature allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been and we could never fly. So that’s the butterfly story, right?
So what was your butterfly moment? What was the moment when you might have allowed somebody to struggle so that they could soar? Caroline’s poetic words. Thank you. So when have you allowed someone to struggle so that they could soar? What butterfly moment have you ever had? Or put another way, when have you realized, I needed to use a lighter touch. So whether you’re a leader, and it was with your team, or you’re a parent and it was with your kids or with a friend that you’re trying to help? But have you ever had an example of your own butterfly moment?
So let’s move to suggestion number two. You actually do have to increase your level of connection with somebody. The more we can be connected, the easier it’s going to be to inspire. And actually, I think it’s tough to inspire without that connection. I see it all the time in leadership. I’m thinking of a senior executive that I worked with who was in a financial services firm and was very accomplished and had done a lot of great things. But one thing she had never done was she had never had her own thing that she had built from the ground up. So she got this great opportunity where the company said, we have a new product, and we need to roll it out to the marketplace. So you’re gonna have to build a team from scratch, learn this new product, get it out to the market. So she had nothing to go on. New people, new team, new everything. And what was inspiring is that she did it. She did a lot. She was very accomplished in terms of knowledge. But she didn’t do a lot based on connection. So she pulled together a team of people, many of whom she had worked with before. And when she brought them together, she said, “Let’s together create a vision for this new organization that we’re going to build.” As part of her building the vision, she asked them what they cared about, what was their vision? And how did that vision go with the organization’s vision. As they went along and built things, people made mistakes, but she gave them feedback, without making them feel wrong. She was, to me, a great example of not just connection, but what I would call interconnection. If I want to connect with people, I make sure that I reach out and I connect to them. But my suggestion, if you want to inspire people, is to upgrade to what I would call interconnection and interconnection is mutual, it’s not just that I reach out to try to connect to you, I also want to make sure you’re connected to me.
So if the first thing to do is have a light touch, the second thing to do is increase your level of connection to interconnection. I use the infinity symbol because you want a connection that feels mutual. Sometimes I get the opportunity to coach teams of leaders, not just leaders, and [one team I worked with] wanted to work on interconnection as a team. So we came up with a self-assessment, a little checklist that has 14 questions about how well am I connecting with others, am I satisfied with my level of connection? Am I 100% responsible for the mutuality of the relationship? Most times in life, we say, if I’m in a relationship, well, I did my 50% so I’m good. However, if you’re going to increase your connection, the question is, are you willing to be 100% responsible for how your communication lands over there?
The last suggestion is, Can you remind people of their power, of what they can do? It’s easy for people to get discouraged sometimes, this is why we need inspiration and we need to inspire each other. Sometimes when you’re discouraged, you can go in a downward spiral. So we want to help people go in an upward spiral. When you remind people of their power, it really means reminding them of what they care about. If you can just ask somebody what they care about, what do they want, what are they dreaming of, and how can they use their voice to speak about that? That’s reminding them of their power and what they can do, because what we care about is an organizing principle, it helps us know what to do with our life. And so sometimes if somebody is down, and you can remind them like, But wait, you told me you care about XYZ, that’s a great way to inspire a person. Reminding people of the power of their care. That’s one.
Another way, remind people of the power of their ability to make a request. There used to be an old saying, turn every complaint into a request. So when people are complaining, you want to help them by saying, okay, so I get you’re complaining. But now, what are we going to do about it? What are you asking? And who do you need to ask? So remind people of the story that they’re having about themselves. This is a big part of positive psychology that we’ve heard in these lunch-and-learns, right? That the story you have about yourself is the most important story. So when you want to inspire people, remind them of their strengths, remind them of their best self. Are they carrying a story of their best self, or are they carrying a story of their discouraged self? Bring their attention to that. And then, of course, remind people of the power of their relationships, right, because I think people forget we have many types of power, many ways that we can do things in the world. And sometimes people have to be reminded, you can use your relationships to help you. So that is the power of relationships.
Val Williams, MCC (Master Certified Coach) is an Executive Coach and specialist in accelerating senior executive development. She holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston University and is a graduate of the Wholebeing Institute’s Certificate program in Positive Psychology. Val has coached senior corporate executives for over 19 years to increase their Impact by strengthening their Influence and building a powerful Executive Presence. As a former healthcare executive herself, Val led an Operations team of over 700 people. Her work focuses on providing senior executive leaders and their teams with the tools and practices they need to achieve the most beneficial Impact.