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  • Steve Sphar, JD, ACC

Evoking Goodness


Evoking goodness in others is a core attribute of great leadership. Leaders who can do this on a consistent basis create a high performance workplace that is dynamic and rewarding.

You could call this ability something else, such as “bringing out the best in people” or “leveraging people’s talents.” But I like the term “evoking goodness” because it connotes several important qualities demonstrated by strong leaders. The ultimate purpose of leadership is to unify and amplify the talent and energy of those around you. Seeing yourself as one who evokes goodness will help you achieve this ultimate aim.

Evoking To evoke means to invite, to call forth, to bring about willingly. To view your leadership role as “evoking” means to see yourself as asking, not telling; as inspiring action, not giving orders. It is this spirit of invitation that allows the person you lead to give or withhold their consent. The ability to evoke does not rely on a leader’s positional authority to command, which gives it its true power.

Leadership is a reciprocal and generative relationship. It is reciprocal because the energy of the relationship flows in both directions: the leader learns from and is guided by the follower as well as vice versa. The leader who is willing to do this shows a vulnerability that opens up space for employees to step into their own authority. Leadership is generative because both parties create more through the relationship than they could without it. Great leaders use the power of this reciprocal and generative relationship to bring out deep caring and commitment from their staff.

Goodness But why say we should evoke “goodness?” Don’t leaders want to evoke more tangible qualities like excellence or productivity? I think there is advantage in using the term evoking goodness, because “goodness” involves a value judgment; it says that what the leader wants from people is inherently noble.

People want to do a good job at work. More than that, people want to do good, period. They want to feel that their daily efforts are contributing to something worthy. Too often, whether through neglect or through the daily pressures of tasks and deadlines, we allow people to lose sight of the larger purpose of their work. When we view the aim of leadership as evoking the natural goodness in people, we see new possibilities for igniting people’s passion.

People never tire of doing something they feel is valuable. Although the specific things each of us finds valuable will vary, it is always energizing when we tap into the stream of personal meaning and purpose. Framing work in terms of goodness helps remind people of this greater meaning. It strikes a chord in them that is all too often forgotten in the galloping rush of daily activity.

Who gets to define what is “good?” To avoid being preachy, I would say you don’t define it, you refer each person to their own sense of what is good. As you do this, you will find that most people rely on a core set of universal themes of what goodness means.

Examples Here are a few ideas for how you can evoke goodness from your staff:

  • Learn People’s Values Get to know the individual values of your staff. Learn what is meaningful, important and inspiring to each of them, both in their career and in life. Use this awareness in your daily conversations, relating the work people are doing to their values.

  • Encourage Vision A leader must be clear about the organization’s vision and repeat it often. But it is also important to know and support the personal visions that excite the people in that organization. Ask people about their vision for the future. If they say they don’t have one, challenge them to create one. This energizes a two-way conversation about vision and how work can foster the conditions for such a future.

  • Give Appreciation Recognizing people for their efforts is a crucial part of leadership, and you probably already do this. As a next step, tie your praise and recognition of people’s good acts to a vision or value that they care about. Expressly label their action as “goodness,” and ask them for more of it.

  • Ask Questions The power of leadership is not always in the tell, but often in the ask. Think about how you use questions now. Are your questions too often about project details and program metrics? These are important, of course, but you can also use questions to excite interest in your employees about the goodness of their work. Use questions at times of crucial decision-making to ask how one action furthers the values of the company more than a different course of action.

Don’t Shrink Back The phrase “evoking goodness” may feel uncomfortable to some leaders who might question whether their job includes calling forth goodness. But I encourage you to embrace this view of your leadership role. It will greatly amplify your ability to release the energy and creativity of your staff. People are hungry to see the many ways that their work is meaningful and noble. They want to be reminded that they are competent, potent forces adding value to the world.

And remember this: evoking goodness in others can be extremely gratifying for you personally, as a leader. As you evoke the quality of goodness in others, you will see it reflected back in yourself. To evoke goodness is to call to the inherent greatness in all of us and to create a shared sense of hope that we can bring about a brighter future together.

About the Author

Steve Sphar, JD, ACC

Steve Sphar is a seasoned leadership consultant with over 25 years experience partnering with executives and managers to create sustained positive change. He was a practicing attorney for 12 years before turning his law and business experience to the field of leadership consulting. He helps managers and executives develop their leadership potential though one-on-one coaching, leadership training and facilitation of executive retreats.

Watch a video interview with Steve here.

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