Everyone agrees that leaders today need to embody vision, energy, authority, and strategic direction. But truly inspirational leaders possess something more – in fact, four distinct qualities. They are able to:
- Balance sensing with transmitting. They don’t just transmit messages regardless of the context or the climatic conditions. They sniff the air and sense what is going on in their teams and around them so that they know just when and how to act.
- Be human rather than reptilian. They are less reactive to circumstances and are more creative in how they approach challenges. They stand back and use the more advanced abilities that humans were bestowed – attention, perception, reasoning and a conscious ability, to make a considered response.
- Make it about them rather than me! Inspirational leaders care about their people and the work they do. That doesn’t mean that they become one of the lads. Leadership is not a popularity contest. There are times when leaders have to make tough calls on their people and the leader needs to stand apart and show a degree of separateness from the team. But inspirational leaders craft and recount stories that are immediately relatable to their audiences. These leaders take particular care to explain why their peoples’ efforts make all the difference and link it to why that success matters to them.
- Capitalize on what’s unique about them. Inspirational leaders understand what makes them different and they embrace it. They find a way to use that quality so that it will inspire others. A lady who worked for Richard Branson many years ago as a young manager recounted to me how inspiring she found him. Richard made it very clear to her early on that his dyslexia made it hard for him to read reams of documents quickly so he asked her to be diligent in her research and to be very clear in her recommendations to him. That lady felt so empowered by Richard Branson that she found herself giving far more to her work to ensure that she gave of her best. How is that for turning a challenge into something that made him so much more appealing as a boss?
In 2009, Zenger and Folkman found that the ability to inspire others to higher performance was the critical quality that separated the mediocre leader from the excellent one. They also documented the top ten behaviours that detract from inspirational leadership which are:
- They lack energy and enthusiasm.
- They rarely provide clear purpose or direction.
- They avoid setting challenging goals.
- They hide critical information.
- They have no personal development plan.
- They don’t provide coaching or mentoring.
- They say one thing and do the other.
- They encourage conflict and competition with other groups in the organization.
- They have little or no interest in input or ideas from their direct reports.
- They rarely provide helpful feedback on performance.
So, leaders need to make a deliberate choice about the impact they want to make as a leader. Do they have any behaviours that detract, or can they build on those four human qualities that inspire?
“Survival is not compulsory. Improvement is not compulsory. But improvement is necessary for survival.”
– W. Edwards Deming
Pure Potential Deelopment Ltd.