Got Ganas? Leading by Inspiring

Feb 19, 2016

The Spanish word, Ganas (gah-nahs), speaks to the inner desire to succeed. It is inspired leadership. It generates action. Inspired action elevates our thinking in the midst of uncertainty and drives behavior toward the pursuit of excellence in the treatment of others. Ganas encourages each individual to align character and attitude with skills and experience. It is about pursuing ideals that motivate to achieve greatness. Such motivation has been known to be a key driver in high performers. Talent is nothing without motivation. Talent determines aptitude but inspired motivation (ganas) determines altitude. Great leaders look beyond the immediate challenges to the full potential of an opportunity.

What do leaders with ganas do? They possess a higher order way of thinking. They speak to common purpose and shared values. They understand that change is hard to come about. It takes perseverance, passion, and even pain. Change leadership starts at the top. All the companies that have had lasting results in terms of social change, economic progress, or in their diversity efforts have had CEOs that have taken ownership of the process. These leaders accept and stand ready to face the challenges. They inspire others to follow suit while setting high standards and requiring accountability of effort. There will always be reasons to delay or prolong making a decision. For example, passing over some individuals for a bonus or stock grant, or making others wait just a bit longer for a promotion or stretch assignment until the timing is “just right.” But, the concept of ganas inspires leaders to accept and include, to develop and promote, to take some risks and to reward equitably across the board. Understanding that one will never have perfect information, the leader with ganas knows he or she must act in the absence of certainty. It’s about aligning character and attitude with organizational success. An indomitable spirit to aspire, to lead, and to contribute can far outweigh the minimalist expectations of the law.

Anyone can have ganas. It is an equal opportunity desire that, when tapped, can drive an individual to action, and, when left dormant, can deprive a leader of a valuable asset. The challenge is to decide whether to ignore that inner sense of desire—in this context, the desire for workplace fairness and inclusion—or whether to tap one’s ganas to work toward inclusion at all levels and in all areas of employment.

B.D.—Before Diversity

Affirmative action efforts of the past and present, without inspiration, constrain us to the numbers and routine mechanics of counting one of this protected group and two of the other. Indeed, prescribed affirmative action efforts are by their very nature limited in scope and results. They often do not foster awareness or greater understanding of organizational impediments, bias, or developmental partiality. Political changes, buffeted by public opinion, bring about swift shifts in public policy. Such changes often produce policy reversals. This can be seen in a historical review of the American experience with affirmative action: new presidential executive orders superseding existing ones, new regulations replacing the old, new and different processes, and a variety of accountability measures and methodologies for yet even more numbers-counting. This push-pull, fall back, and spring forward approach has reduced affirmative action efforts to a technical level of compliance often tended to in a vacuum.

For example, employers that have federal contracts are required to develop and maintain affirmative action plans as a condition of their doing business with the government. Most employers will acknowledge that they keep two sets of books. The first set is for “the government,” written in the technical language that will pass muster during an audit or investigation. This set of books has little if any connection to the organization’s day-to-day operational objectives or long-term strategic goals. The second set of books uses language, guidance, and descriptions that are more closely aligned with the organization’s culture and stated objectives. Written in company language, this second set makes the business case for diversity in a manner that will resonate with employees and will drive results. This programmatic divide has caused many employers to separate their affirmative action/regulatory compliance function away from their diversity initiatives, thus creating a less-than-ideal situation for staff involved in the coordination of both efforts.

Diversity and Inclusion

Achieving results beyond compliance to a sustained high level of workplace diversity and inclusion, however, requires increased understanding and an overt recognition that things can, and ought to, change. Inspired action does not confine itself to the rigidity of any law; rather, it transcends those boundaries, raising its standards to a higher level of conduct for the greater good, regardless of shifts in policy or regulatory technicalities. When numbers alone are the focus, cohesion and relevance to organizational structure and business goals could be lacking. Sustainable achievements in diversity result from its full and complete integration into all facets of employment.

But, sound motives and good intentions will get a company only so far. Unless ganas for such is put into action and institutionalized, diversity efforts and initiatives can falter or die on the vine. Having a commitment to the principles of diversity and equal employment opportunity does not guarantee legal compliance with the myriad laws and regulations.

Heartfelt leaders know this, but forge on, undeterred, picking employees up and bringing them along. While keeping ever vigilant about legal mandates and obligations, such employers elevate their focus beyond compliance to a higher level of principles and ideals that affirm the unique value of each individual and inspire their pursuit. At times, they surround themselves with like-minded committed individuals; at other times, they encourage and inspire others to hear and heed the call themselves.

Excerpted from Cari M. Dominguez and Jude Sotherlund, Leading with Your Heart: Diversity and Ganas for Inspired Inclusion (SHRM, 2010).


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