At leadership conferences, I often see the output of brainstorming sessions where attendees have been asked to name leaders they find the most inspiring. They are asked to put up photographs of these leaders. As I walk around the room, I see the faces of former Presidents John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, as well as other many other prominent political and religious leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa.
Who would you put up? The same people?
THE WRONG MODELS
These leaders were more than inspiring. They were awe-inspiring. Most commanded a world stage and were commanding orators. But if this is the concept we have in our minds when we think of being inspiring leaders ourselves, it is entirely the wrong concept on which to model our own leadership style.
If I asked you who was most inspiring boss in your career, you’d probably say it was a person who believed in you, who stretched you, who coached you and who helped you achieve more than you thought you could. They made you feel inspired.
There is a huge difference between being seen as inspiring and making others feel inspired.
Inspiring leadership communication is not about great oratory or great charisma: rather, it is about getting others to believe in your cause. It is about getting your employees to achieve more than they thought was possible.
It’s all about them, not you.
The simple truth is this: how well you perform as a leader will depend on how well you communicate. You can have the best plan, the best resources and best people, but if you don’t communicate well, you won’t persuade anyone to your cause, and you will fail.
Yet any leader at any level in an organisation can easily derive competitive advantage by learning how to be more inspiring. It is much easier than you might think.
Having interviewed dozens of the UK’s top leaders on what it means to be inspiring, and backed it up with research on 4,000 workers. I believe there are five things the most inspiring leaders do.
1. CONVEY YOUR PASSION
Inspirational leaders are transparently passionate, and possess a visible moral compass. Authenticity is crucial. Followers will not commit if they do not trust you or believe that you have integrity. So, even if you see a highly introverted individual, it’s vital that you learn to speak with more passion – talk about your values, stand up more often and outline your beliefs. The ability to consistently display passion and commitment is the single most important behaviour of effective leaders.
2. CREATE A SHARED VISION AND VALUES
Too often, leaders use financial goals to motivate people, but employees say they don’t get out of bed in the morning to achieve financial objectives. Numbers don’t drive people, but people drive the numbers. They want to be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference to society and the world. They want a purpose that makes them proud. On top of that, the best executives focus on creating shared values. When leaders speak about a purpose that creates shared value, it is far more motivating than money, especially when coupled with a set of values that your employees know to be true. In this world of radical transparency, vales have assumed a far greater importance. They define how people in an organisation behave in pursuit of their objectives, and these actions define a business to the outside world.
3. NEVER STOP MOVING FORWARD
The best leaders I spoke to were addicted to progress, with a crystal clear intent. They knew precisely where they wanted to be in a given timescale, even if they did not know exactly how to get there. They were never satisfied with the status quo, and their restlessness was a tangible force. Every question they asked had to do with how people were progressing to their goals, and they kept those goals under constant review, painting a vivid picture of success. They made sure everyone knew how they were doing and what was expected of them, regularly.
4. STAY CUSTOMER – FOCUSED
Leaders have to live outside of their organisations, constantly bringing in stories of success and failure to keep everyone fixed on what need to improve. Successful leaders know that relationships are the engines of success. They set up ‘quivering antennae.’ As one executive described it to me – a radar system that keeps you in touch with the outside world.
One effective strategy is to bring customers into the building to talk to people within the organisation. Leaders tell me that such sessions were often far more inspiring than talks by the managers.
5. ENGAGE WITH EMPLOYEES
Increasing numbers of organisations are now measuring level of employee engagement, and using this as a strategic tool to find ways to keep people motivated and committed to the cause. Companies with high levels of engagement outperform their competitors by some margin,
Engagement is achieved through conversations – structured, potent conversations that allow employees to fully understand the big objectives, and work out with their leaders what they have to do to achieve them. Too often, these discussions are neglected, and middle managers are neither trained for nor measured on their ability to hold these critical conversations.