Too many companies in the United States and throughout the world experience noticeable leadership gaps. A recent Gallup survey shows that only 22 percent of teams think their leaders have a clear direction of where to take the company. It’s troubling to know so many organizations lack direction in an era when, to be successful, businesses must constantly evolve. New technologies, marketing trends, and customer desires are continuously shifting. To survive well into the future, companies must have an inspiring leader who motivates and guides their team to reach challenging goals.
An inspiring leader is passionate, confident, emotionally intelligent, decisive, and strategic. These qualities exist in their words, their actions, and their energy. Knowing they can’t achieve their goals alone, they bring out the best in others. For example, think of leaders like Winston Churchill, who, against all odds, remained positive and reminded his fellow countrymen of their excellence and abilities. His strong leadership painted a clear vision of a heroic nation that never surrendered, despite the challenges before them.
As noted above, inspiring leaders give people purpose, motivate them to action, and provide more fulfillment in their professional careers. An organization that wants to see sustained success should have inspirational leadership throughout the company. To find out how to do this, learn about some of the traits of inspiring leaders, including a few examples that show how to positively influence your team.
How to Be an Inspiring Leader
To become an inspiring leader, a person must understand their values and follow them to the fullest. They display earnest conviction in their beliefs and won’t bend to outside pressures no matter how difficult the road becomes. Such leaders should have an inner drive and a deep hunger to create change. They engage in transformational leadership and display high emotional intelligence. They also develop other leadership skills and traits that help them inspire others. Find out what these are below.
“Be yourself—not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.”Henry David Thoreau
Inspirational leaders show authenticity at all times, allowing them to connect with others. They openly share details about themselves—where they came from, the challenges they’ve faced, and their dreams for the future. There’s no phoniness about them, which brings an added level of respect from others. They are genuinely proud of who they are and don’t try to hide it. Most importantly, they always act the same no matter the situation, whether in the office or out on vacation.
Steve Jobs showed inspirational leadership in his life partly through his authenticity. Jobs was very open about his struggles and the times when he failed. In fact, he often talked about when he was fired from Apple in 1985 and what he learned from it. In one commencement speech he gave to Stanford, students expressed surprise that he mostly discussed his failures instead of successes. Leaders can learn from this authenticity and practice ways to be more open about themselves and where they’ve stumbled as they look to motivate those around them.
“An approachable person intuitively knows how to set new acquaintances at ease and create a safety net for them to be vulnerable and authentic.”Susan C. Young
Another trait for leaders to develop involves being approachable. Part of that comes down to creating an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their opinions and talking to you. Approachable leaders show a vulnerable side, displaying their personal nature. In other words, they show they’re just like anyone else: human and relatable. They recognize these traits in others as well and allow for that feeling to spread throughout an organization.
An approachable leader is an inspiring leader who knows how to communicate. They’re unafraid to tell their story and share their vision with others. That goes for people inside the company as well as customers outside of it. As health coach Sarah Ann Stewart explains, “As I evolved as an entrepreneur, I realized the more I connected with individuals and shared my own personal life, the more impact I was having on a greater scale. Honest, vulnerable stories are not ‘salesy,’ they are relatable!” Showing the human element will help people see the personal side of a leader.
“One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”E.M. Forster
Inspirational leaders also show a genuine passion for what they do and the goals they have. Once they’ve laid out a vision or mission, they tackle it with energetic enthusiasm. Passion is contagious, and if a leader is passionate about what they’re doing, people notice and can even feel the same sentiment. It helps when leaders articulate why they’re passionate and why everyone should focus on the big picture.
One example of a passionate leader who gets results is Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000. He returned to the company again in 2008. When he became CEO for a second time, Starbucks was having difficulties during a rapid growth phase. Part of the problem was caused by attempts to diversify the menu. As Schultz reentered the picture, he focused on his passion for coffee, which redirected the company’s focus. Schultz even went so far as to close thousands of Starbucks stores to emphasize the company should be all about coffee. This led to a major turnaround for the company, largely thanks to Schultz’s inspiring passion for the product.
4. Role Modeling
“The three most important ways to lead people are, by example, by example, by example.”Albert Schweitzer
It should come as no surprise that inspirational leaders lead by example. While some managers may tell others what to do, the example setter shows them what to do. Following, after all, is an action that takes effort and clear direction. While a leader can explain what someone should do in a given situation, the more effective method is to walk the walk yourself. This also applies when demonstrating the values of an organization. A leader who sets the example for being caring and compassionate will see that example followed by people within the company.
One leader who has set an example of the importance of taking time off is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Netflix’s policy gives employees unlimited PTO, but that doesn’t mean workers always take advantage of it. Hastings sets the example by taking six weeks off every year. When employees see this, they feel like it’s okay to take time off and experience the benefits of vacation time too. Without that example, Netflix employees would likely not take as much time off, leading to higher rates of work burnout.
5. Active Listening
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”Stephen R. Covey
While many people may think of an inspiring leader as one who speaks well, they also need to be great listeners. If leaders don’t learn to listen, how will they know what other people are saying? Inspirational leaders allow time for people to voice their thoughts. They take in their ideas and contemplate them, and they don’t dismiss them as unimportant. If people see that a leader listens, they’ll be more inspired to follow them.
Listening is another way to establish a connection with other people. It shows you pay attention and honestly care about what they say. Author and humanitarian Alexi Panos described the importance of listening by saying, “It’s not just ‘customers,’ ‘audience,’ or ‘tribe’—every person that comes into my ecosystem has a story, fears, hopes, and dreams, has people in their lives that count on them, that love them, and have something that they’re facing off with (just like me). These are humans . . . not sales . . . and I keep that at the forefront of my business from start to finish. Connect to the person and then find a way to listen and then serve.”
6. Servant Leadership
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”Theodore Roosevelt
One of the best ways for leaders to inspire others is by serving them. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service . . . You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” Servant leadership inspires others through selfless actions. It influences people through acts of caring and kindness. People see servant leaders and have the desire to be like them.
Many leaders try to show servant leadership in business by establishing a “people-first” policy. This essentially means people come before profits. One example of this is the company SAS, which has received national awards for its workplace and how it treats its employees. The servant leader at the head of it all is CEO and founder Jim Goodnight, who shows appreciation for the employees. He’s noted as saying, “Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.” With that encouragement and service, people will feel inspired to follow.
Inspiring Leaders Need to Step Forward
Many people in the business world crave inspiring leadership. Indeed, all companies stand to benefit when inspiring leaders step up. People want to feel that inspiration in their lives. In Start With Why, Simon Sinek points this out when he writes: “Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.”
With more inspiring leaders at the helm of their organizations, more people will have the ability to change the world for the better.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out these motivational leadership quotes.