Leadership Qualities: Inspiration.


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Photos courtesy Sharon McCutcheon, Tommy Lisbin, Kenrick Mills, and Kyle Loftus on Unsplash.

Leaders have the unique ability to inspire their team beyond what ordinary limitations would allow.  Great leaders inspire us centuries after they are gone.  A few at the top of the list have prompted us to work for a cause, for example:  Nelson Mandela (“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”); John F. Kennedy (“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”); and, Martin Luther’ King, Jr. (“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”)

And, despite the challenges, many people continue to give their lives for causes every single day because of leaders who inspire them.  

Every sphere of life has leaders who inspire.  Consider Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ; Michelangelo’s the Sistine Chapel ceiling or Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond.”  Through the eyes of the creative we are inspired by metaphors for life that call us onward.  Today, they have a contemporary counterpart in climate change artist, Zaria Forman, who travels extensively with NASA engineers to bring to life the devastating effects of climate change on the earth (http://www.msn.com/en-xl/europe/europe-video/putting-climate-change-on-canvas/vi-BBU6Z0b?ocid=spartandhp).

Sports also offers powerful metaphors for life.  And, Jamaicans have been inspired in the last few days as we have watched our own female soccer team, the Reggae Girls, continue their journey to the World Cup as they played skillfully against the Chilean women.  Even more people stand in awe of the one who can save the impossible goal – the Italian football legend and current Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/01/football/psg-champions-league-gianluigi-buffon-spt-intl/index.html).  What is his secret inspiration?  Impressionist art!  

 Leaders who inspire have the “ability to inspire people to reach great heights of performance and success… Passion, purpose, listening and meaning; … Communication, integrity, inclusion, and sensitivity to the needs of the employees help make a leader inspirational” (Heathfield, 2019; https://www.thebalancecareers.com/leadership-inspiration-1918611).   They have the ability to breathe into the soul of another with the same emotion that is triggered by a creative’s work.  

Business leader, Richard Branson, identifies the ability to inspire as the single most important leadership skill. The ability to infuse energy, passion, commitment, and connection to an organization’s mission and direction is essential in any growing company.  Based on a survey of 1,700 CEOs through 64 countries, IBM identified this as one of the top three qualities in a leader.  They are:

  1. the ability to focus intensely on customer needs;
  2. the ability to collaborate with colleagues; and 
  3. the ability to inspire.  

This finding is corroborated in additional studies by Bain Research which showed that inspired employees are twice as productive as satisfied employees.  Also research of more than 50,000 leaders conducted by the Harvard Business Review showed that the ability to inspire ranks as one of the most important competencies. It also leads to the highest levels of engagement, it distinguishes the best leaders from everyone else, and employees desire this quality the most in their leaders (Levin, 2017).

Inspirational leaders undoubtedly influence their team to behave in the same way, always demonstrating their commitment and passion in every meeting, presentation, and resolving problems for their customers.   

Another study by Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman (2015) explored the difference between “driving for results versus inspiring to others.” The results showed that only 25% of employees were highly committed to leaders who were not strong in either Results or Inspires.  Also, 40% of employees were highly committed if a leader was in the top quartile on Results but not on Inspiration.  Slightly more, 45% of employees were highly committed to leaders at the top quartile on Inspiration but not on Results.  However, 63% of employees were willing to go the extra mile to achieve goals for leaders who were in the top quartile on both competencies.  

Inspiration is affected by age and gender.  Data were obtained from 46,237 leaders, 30,372 males and 15,838 females.  Females tend to level off at age 40 while males continue to decline.  But, not exclusively so as 4.6% of leaders who were rated in the top 10% on inspiration were male 61 and over and 6.2% were female 61 and over.  So, an inspiring leader has to invest energy and effort in being inspirational (https://www.forbes.com/sites/joefolkman/2015/11/11/is-inspiring-others-worth-the-effort/#14baeb155f0a).  

Still stumped about ways to inspire your team?  Consider a few of the following strategies:

  1. Have a Clear Vision, Mission, and Values System. 
  2. Create Stretch Goals. 
  3. Encourage Self-Development. 
  4. Invest Time in Good Communication. 
  5. Act with Integrity; Inspire Trust. (https://www.inc.com/marissa-levin/why-great-leaders-like-richard-branson-inspire-instead-of-motivate.html).  

Looking for nuggets to inspire your team?  Check out Be Prepared and For a Teacher’s Heart at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/KeishaAMitchellPhD  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfPWaPCJ0vE  .


Photos courtesy of WordPress Media Library. 

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