The inspiration gap

New research reveals CEOs aren’t as compelling as they might think when communicating their vision to employees. 
The ability to inspire others is one of the most important skills of leadership.  Yet new research indicates that inspirational bosses are in short supply in the UK.  It also reveals that, although the vast majority of leaders appreciate that they are not perfect, they rate their ability to inspire more highly than employees do.
If companies want to improve productivity they need to focus their leadership development on helping managers at all levels to be more motivational.
I recently commissioned the online research agency YouGov to survey a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 workers in Britain.  Results show that, among those who have a boss, one third of them (33%) rated their boss as uninspiring, with 12% rating them as “extremely uninspiring”. Only 21% rated their boss at the “excellent” end of the spectrum, with just 5% rating their boss as “extremely inspiring”.

Are bosses failing Britain?
The research also revealed inspiration hotspots and blackspots, depending on where you live – an inspiration postcode lottery.  Scotland appears to be a ‘blackspot’ of worker inspiration with the lowest national figure for people who feel their boss is “extremely inspiring” (2%) and the highest percentage of people who feel their boss is “extremely uninspiring” (16%).
On the other hand, London is a more promising place to work if you want to feel fully engaged with your career with 7% of employees claiming they find their bosses “extremely inspiring”, the highest figure in the country.
Significant variations in inspiration also appear across industries.  Employees from the media, marketing, advertising and public relations sector are most likely to rate their bosses as inspiring (31% rating 8 or higher on the scale), followed by those in the IT industry (28%).  It’s worse news for public sector leaders, with only 20% of employees in government rating their bosses as inspiring.
Meanwhile, two fifths of workers (40%) who work in travel and transport say their bosses are uninspiring (i.e. gave a rating of 1-4 on a scale of 1-10), suggesting they are the least engaged in the country.

How inspiring are you?
Altogether the findings indicate there is a significant need for leaders across the country to take action.  It boils down to how leaders communicate and the language they use to inspire those around them.
My research in this area has found that the most inspiring leaders have developed a lingua franca that involves using 12 principles of communication.  Using this as a framework, I have developed an online ‘inspiration quotient calculator’, which anyone can try, here: http://www.language
Already, leaders and aspiring leaders across the world have taken the test and have found that it not only highlights their strengths and weaknesses, but also offers relevant practical tips on areas where they can improve.
To measure the size improvement required, I included a question in the YouGov research which asked people to rate their boss’ ability to inspire on a scale of 1–10.  The results show that British workers gave their managers an average ‘inspiration quotient’ of less than 5.5

Intriguingly, when leaders were asked to rate themselves the average answer was 7.  From this it would seem that, although leaders know they need to improve, they feel their performance is 27% better than the performance reported by the people they manage.
The area in which managers feel least able to perform is on their ability to ‘engage’, scoring themselves very low against the comment ‘My leadership team are having enough meaningful conversations with our employees so they feel engaged, motivated and committed to what we are doing’.  This is clearly an important issue to address, as studies show that companies with high levels of engagement among employees outperform their competitors.
Engagement is achieved through conversations: structured, potent exchanges that allow employees to fully understand the big objective, and work out with their leaders what they have to do to help achieve the goals. It is in these conversations that the rubber hits the road, where the plan gets traction.
Too often, this is an area that’s neglected, and middle managers are neither trained for, nor measured on their ability to interact effectively. Worse still, top management doesn’t check on the quality of those conversations, or seek out their feedback in a systematic way.
Can you communicate a vision?
Surprisingly, leaders also judge themselves lowest on the ability to articulate an inspiring vision and deliver a clear future focus. Yet the ability to win people with an inspiring vision of the future is one of the most important attributes cited by employees.
The skill leaders feel they are best equipped for, is their ability to provide a point of view, scoring themselves highest against the comment ‘People in the organisation can look at me and say that I speak out strongly and clearly on the issues that are important to me and to our organisation’.  This is fantastic news.
However, for the best impact these ‘points of view’ should bring together the organisation’s purpose and values, as well as drawing attention to the benefits of doing things the leader’s way. These messages should call people to action, because a strong point of view is powerful.
I believe every leader has it in them to be a great deal more inspiring. To do this they must learn to listen more attentively, become a more proficient conversationalist, bring more of their personality to their leadership, be more audience-centric and learn how to tell stories. They also need to articulate a clear sense of purpose that provides a ‘true north’ for their leadership.
To find out how you or your leadership can put in place a systematic approach to deliver an inspiring vision and clear future focus for employees, Kevin Murray can be contacted at: or 01491 825816.
First published through Criticaleye, The Community of Leaders.