What Makes a Leader Inspirational?
If You Inspire Great Performance, You're a True Leader
A job title does not make a leader Inspirational. Rather, it's the ability to drive people to reach great heights of performance and success and to demonstrate the qualities employees will follow by choice—passion, purpose, listening, and giving meaning to their role.
Many senior leaders expect employees to follow them because of their title, their company ownership, or their place in the organization's hierarchy. And many employees do follow a leader for these reasons. But that doesn't mean the leader inspires their best work, support, and contribution.
Actions That Inspire
An inspirational leader does not just tell employees they are deeply committed to their customer's experience. The leader must demonstrate this commitment and passion in every meeting, presentation, and in how they handle customer problems. The leader's behavior must inspire employees to act in the same way.
Communication, integrity, inclusion, and sensitivity to the needs of the employees round out the qualities and characteristics of an inspirational leader. No one is inspired by a leader who people think does not care about them.
The ability to communicate that passion, purpose, and meaning to others helps establish the inspirational culture of your organization.
The inspirational leader feels passionate about the vision and mission of the organization. They are also able to share that passion in a way that enables others to feel passionate, too. Shared passion makes organizations soar in the accomplishment of their mission and vision.
The nature of the vision and mission is critical for enabling others to feel as if their work has a purpose and meaning beyond the tasks they perform each day. Sometimes leaders must help their staff connect the dots by explaining this big picture to all. Communicating the big picture regularly will help reinforce the reason your organization exists.
The inspirational leader listens to the people in their organization. Talking to people about your passion is not enough. To share meaning—a favorite and meaningful definition of communication—you must allow the ideas and thoughts of your staff to help form the vision and mission, or minimally, the goals and action plan. No one is ever 100% supportive of a direction they had no part in formulating. People need to see their ideas incorporated—or understand why they were not.
To experience inspiration, people need to feel included. Inclusion goes beyond the realm of listening and providing feedback. For real inclusion, people need to feel intimately connected to the actions and processes leading to the accomplishment of the goals or the final decision.
For example, a company canceled an annual employee event because of customer orders for their product. Many people did not like the decision, but the company involved the management team, the Activity Committee members, and many other employees in the discussion about whether to cancel or reschedule the event.
The inclusion led to a compromise that enabled a smaller celebration and a positive morale boost, yet allowed the company to meet customer needs. Since customer needs are paramount, and the employees agreed, the company's decision—made with employee input—left nothing to push back against.
Integrity and Trust
Vision and passion are important, but your employees must trust you if you want them to feel inspired. They must believe in your integrity and see it played out in decision-making and treatment of customers and employees.
Who you are as a person is as important as the direction you provide. Employees look up to a person who tells the truth, tries to do the right things, lives a principled life, and does their best. Your actions play out on the stage of your organization. Behavior that aligns with what you say is always center stage.
Giving People What They Want
An inspirational leader gives people what they want within their capabilities. (For example, you can’t provide a pay raise if the company is not reaching profit goals. But you must share the rewards if the organization is doing well.)
The inspirational leader also understands that, while money is a motivator, so are praise, recognition, rewards, saying thank you, and noticing an individual’s contribution to a successful endeavor. Speaking directly to a contributing employee about the value their work provides for the organization is a key source of inspiration for the recipient. The actions you take every day at work are powerful.
Checklist of a Successful Leadership Style
Here are the qualities and actions associated with successful leaders:
- Choose to lead.
- Be the person others choose to follow.
- Provide vision for the future.
- Provide inspiration.
- Make other people feel important and appreciated.
- Live your values. Behave ethically.
- Set the pace through your expectations and example.
- Establish an environment of continuous improvement.
- Provide opportunities for people to grow, both personally and professionally.
- Care and act with compassion.