Imagine two senior leaders, X and Y in an organisation, both hardworking and with similar years of experience, but with totally different working styles. While both appear to be go-getters and deliver as per timelines, what sets them apart is how they work their way around, with their teams, peers and across the organisation. A feedback session with X’s team establishes that the team members are satisfied with their jobs. However, they also highlight that there is an unnecessary pressure on them all the time and that the work-life balance is really not there. Also, the bonding in the team is missing and they are unsure if their leader really cares about them or their hard work. X’s team also faces a tough time when they need to work across teams. Cut to Y’s team and the picture is different. Y’s team is high on enthusiasm and always up for new challenges. They are a strongly bonded unit that works hard together and goes out together, to celebrate their wins. This team also values their leader and his/her invaluable experience. Y’s team is well connected and is able to push its way through the organisation and deliver impactful results.
Which one of the two would an organisation prefer? Well, the response is anyone’s guess.
In today’s times, every company wants leaders who are inspiring and engaging and bring the best out of the workforce. Leaders can lead the change in terms of defining the culture within the team, and this can have a ripple effect on the culture of the organisation at large. The ability to infuse energy, passion, commitment, and connection to an organisation’s mission and direction is essential in any growing company. The need of the hour is a leader who stands out because he/she inspires and leads by example. Sadly so, there is no rule book for being an inspiring leader. While the notion is that the ability to inspire is an innate characteristic—difficult to describe, hard to measure and impossible to cultivate in a corporate environment. However, it won’t be wrong to say that this can be developed, over the years.
Inspiration and not motivation is the most important leadership trait, as it is driven by passion and purpose.
Inspiration pulls one towards a strong purpose that stirs his/her heart, mind, or spirit. I have worked with leaders who truly inspire and can drive a team of thousands, sitting even in remote locations, to deliver their best as they all find themselves connected to the common cause. They may get tired, but they can bounce back with a new vigour to focus on their higher purpose. This is how startup founders build their teams- all committed to the same cause, and self-driven to deliver their best.
Interestingly, no one follows a leader for a leader. They follow a leader for themselves!
If you pick up great leaders from history or from the corporate world, you would notice that what has set them apart is their inspirational leadership that powered people to act.
Why the hullabaloo now? You may wonder..
It is the increase in the Millennial workforce as well as the rise of collaborative work culture have led to the need of leaders who could inspire. Also, the increased focus on customer experience have encouraged organisations to look for leaders who inspire.
So, what does it take to be an inspiring leader?
- Empower your team: inspiring leaders are those who use their strengths to encourage individuals and teams to push themselves and take on the big and difficult projects – and hold them accountable for results. They are the ones who unlock best performance in individuals through empowerment, not command and control
- Connect well: An inspiring leader connects well with his team and colleagues/partners. Attributes like humility and empathy come in handy for such leaders as they help the leaders to build an instant connect with their stakeholders
- Have a clear vision, mission, and values system: Inspiring leaders are clear about their vision and mission and are able to clearly articulate what they believe in, why they think it is important and are clear about what they strive to achieve
- Collaborate and create a cohesive work culture: The most inspiring of leaders are the ones who are highly collaborative. They believe in working closely with the teams. They work with people to get things done. They are hands-on and have no inhibitions in getting their hands dirty, rather than only issuing directives
- Focus on training and self-development: Inspiring leaders understand the importance of sharpening one’s skill set and encourage their team members to invest in honing their skills, learn something new and encourage activities that foster emotional, and spiritual growth & well-being
- Applaud the good work: When one puts in so many hours every week at his/her workplace, all he/she expects is some words of appreciation from their manager. Inspiring leaders have no qualms in acknowledging and applauding the good work done by their team. They believe this ensures an individual feels safe, feels connected and feels valued
- Accept mistakes: Humility is a virtue, possessed by a few. Inspiring leaders stand out in the crowd as they are honest and humble enough to accept mistakes. For them, learning is a continuous process and this thought process helps them to connect well and inspire their team members
- Patient and a good listener: Good leaders are patient, good listeners and open to hear the other person’s ideas or view point. They are not impulsive.
To sum it up, there is no universal archetype for inspiring leaders. Inspirational leadership is individualistic in nature and is strengths based. They are the ones who believe in the power of we and together. Inspiring leaders demonstrate a state of mindfulness that enables them to keep a cool head and stay calm under stress, empathise, listen deeply, and remain present. Additionally, inspiring leaders are great communicators. They connect well and understand that communication can be a catalyst to growth, and use it as a strategic tool to achieve their goals. They understand that their actions matter and always ‘walk the talk’.