Context & Approach
It is no surprise that when we think of inspiring leaders, we identify people we want to emulate, model ourselves after and have the opportunity to work with. As a colleague once observed, leadership can be summarized very succinctly: “Leaders inspire”.
And it is seldom because of ‘what’ they do, but rather ‘why’ they do it and ‘how’ they do it. A book by Simon Sinek entitled Find Your Why and an earlier TED talk by the author expand on this point.
If one looks further into the part inspiration plays in effective leadership, a trusted source such as the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a good place to begin. Over a few years, the HBR published three articles on the topic. It is clear that the topic of inspiration warrants serious examination as a major aspect of effective leadership.
Four thoughts informed the writing of this article:
- A belief that inspirational leadership was never more necessary than it is in these uncertain times;
- A leader’s inspirational behaviours will be a mix of core aspects of character; inspiring actions are often situationally-driven, guided by genuine caring for others and directly related to the needs and expectations of teams, followers and the wider organization.
- Moreover, effective leaders inspire through their significant ability to retain balance between and among the competing demands they face; and
- While the best leaders are strongly inspirational, they too need support as they continue to lead in a way that invites engagement and commitment. Conversation is of course an important element in this regard, but pragmatic and focused action steps also play a prominent role.
|As noted by Ian Cullwick, a retired partner with an international consulting firm: “At a system-wide level, inspiration includes the need to demonstrate and deliver genuine and consistently-applied leadership and management practices; to accomplish this, an accountability framework and related delegated authorities are essential.”|
Our discussion starts with some basic thinking about ‘inspiration’, informed in part by a current focused survey of a range of senior leaders, coaches, consultants and clients. In addition, I identify some shared behaviours which I have experienced directly from among those I work with. Along with the research findings, these become for our purposes a ‘baseline’ for the balance of the article.
From there, I highlight some of the challenges leaders face as they manage their own resilience and at the same time, remain supportive of colleagues. The ‘work’ of the leader – and the leader’s organization in supporting their leaders – as they remain strongly inspirational is discussed. Finally, I conclude the article with a few key practical action steps for leaders to consider as they continue to maintain a high degree of effectiveness which balances their own wellbeing with continuing inspiration, engagement and commitment of colleagues.
 Sinek, S., D. Mead and P. Docker. (2017) Find Your Why. London: Penguin Books Limited; Sinek, S. (2010) TED Talk entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
 See the following HBR articles: Kaufman, S. (2011, November 8th). Why Inspiration Matters; Zenger, J. and J. Folkman. (2013, June 20th). What Inspiring Leaders Do; and Garton, E. (2017, April 25th). How to be an Inspiring Leader.