I sat down for lunch with a friend the other day and she bubbled over with excitement. "I just came from a meeting where I was actually inspired by one of the senior leaders. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've felt that way. It was awesome."

The topic of the meeting was how to improve employee engagement and, it seemed, that for the first time in a long time her company was on the right track. A new partner had been assigned to lead the special task force. After coming on board, he stripped away all of the mundane administrative tasks that the group had taken on under previous guidance, grounded them in the importance of their work, and gave them freedom to explore some fresh and innovative approaches that would likely have a lasting, positive impact on the company's 20,000 employees. He even had a couple of novel ideas of his own that showed he'd done some homework. They were inspired, energized, and hopeful that their work might actually make a difference.

Unfortunately, many of us can relate to the feeling of being stranded in an inspiration desert. Deserts are vast expanses where little or nothing blooms because there is no food or water to give it life. The climate doesn't support new growth.

Our companies go through periods of the same. Leaders and managers get preoccupied with an operational problem (or many) so they stop giving the staff the food and water--or inspiration--they need to nurture and grow new ideas.

Inspiration deserts are miserable places to work.

  • Each day is essentially the same. You look up but don't see anything new or different on the horizon.
  • Each day's work is done but you can't tell if you've made any progress. You don't know what the end goal is.
  • And perhaps the scariest part, each day drains a bit more creative energy. You try but you sense that your own ideas are drying up.

If you're working in an inspiration desert, what can you do?

  1. Determine what's missing. Inspiration deserts are low points in the corporate culture and manifest in low morale, poor client engagement, no new or refined product offerings, a lack of a strategic plan, and an outdated or irrelevant vision. Take a couple of minutes to jot down what you're not seeing and what could be different.
  2. Observe when staff interact, whether it's internally or company-wide meetings, working groups, calls, memos, etc. and what happens during these interactions. These are the missed opportunities to inspire staff.
  3. Schedule private time with your boss to discuss. Determine if she's seeing the same thing and what her sense of the underlying issues might be. If she's in agreement, great. You have the beginnings of change. If she's not, there is more work to do--you might have to go it alone until you can get some colleagues on board.
  4. Get specific to start. Pick one element from your "what's missing" list and figure out when the best opportunities exist to meet and discuss internally might be.
  5. Consider what influence you have today. How could you inspire yourself and others through your current role?
  6. Take action. Pep yourself up by binge-watching inspiring videos or creating a fresh playlist.

Inspiration deserts are such terrible places to work because they sap employee energy over time. The good news is that you can be an agent of change by getting specific about what you'd like to see be different. Often, that effort will be sufficient to get others on board who will do the same and shift the culture together. How empowering to know that the difference lies with you.