Any manager can learn how to become a more inspiring leader
When you think about all the managers you've encountered in your life, are there any that you thought of as inspiring leaders? If you're like most people, chances are that you haven't dealt with too many inspirational managers throughout your career – and for good reason. All too often, managers get so caught up in the administrative aspects of their job that they forget just how important inspirational leadership can be. The good news is that a great manager can learn how to be an inspiring leader too.
In this post, we'll explain what it means to be an inspiring leader and why inspiring leadership is so important. We'll also examine six key qualities that you can focus on developing to become a more inspirational leader.
What is an inspiring leader?
Managers who want to learn how to be more inspiring as leaders first need to ensure that they understand exactly what an inspiring leader represents to their followers. What does it mean to be inspirational? Merriam-Webster defines inspirational as, “causing people to want to do or create something; giving inspiration.” It also notes several synonyms of the word, including provoking, moving, inciting, touching, and motivating.
To be inspiring, you need to have the ability to motivate others to feel certain emotions, to think certain thoughts, or to do certain things. Leaders who have this ability can get others to adopt their vision and worldview and join them in pursuit of a common goal. In business, leaders who know how to inspire others in this way can motivate their teams in ways that increase productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
How can you recognize inspirational leadership?
As you might expect, inspirational leadership is usually easy to recognize, especially in the workplace. Typically, an inspiring leader will be someone who clearly believes in themselves and wears their self-confidence like a well-tailored shirt. They always seem to demonstrate compassion and handle everything and everyone in a fair and even-handed manner. This type of leader never runs from a challenge and seems to be laser-focused on making a real difference in their environment.
Inspirational leadership is also focused on being accountable for decisions. Leaders inspire others when they are willing to accept fault for bad decisions rather than blame others. They are also excellent communicators who know how to deliver messages in a compelling way and strive to ensure that their deeds match their words. If they promise something, they do everything they can to deliver. They are disciplined, committed, and resilient – and those traits make them excellent role models for everyone whose lives they touch.
Why inspiring leadership matters
The importance of inspirational leadership cannot be overstated. These types of leaders are critically important for a company's success, which is why inspiring leadership regularly ranks as one of the most important leadership competencies. More importantly, the ability to inspire can have a profound impact on any company's bottom line. In fact, research conducted several years ago confirmed that employees who feel inspired by their leaders are more than two times more productive than workers who are simply satisfied with their jobs.
Inspired workers also tend to be more engaged in their jobs, which reduces costly absenteeism while improving employee retention. That engagement also leads to greater commitment to important metrics like safety, quality, and customer satisfaction. According to Gallup, that increased employee engagement results in behavioral habits that can increase a company's profitability by as much as 23%.
6 qualities managers need to be inspiring leaders
With all those benefits in mind, it's helpful to think about the types of leadership qualities that managers can nurture to ensure that they're inspiring their teams. Learning about these traits can be an important part of any manager's effort to supercharge their own professional growth and expand their leadership capabilities. That growth and self-improvement can provide them with the tools they need to inspire and lead their subordinates to even greater heights of success.
Here are six important qualities that managers can nurture to help them become more inspiring leaders:
There are many reasons why authoritarian leaders struggle to inspire their employees, but their lack of approachability might be the biggest issue. Most people have worked under managers or leaders who try to get results through fear and other negative emotions. Sometimes, these types of leaders use intimidation or the threat of penalty to try to motivate employees to improve their performance. Other times, they create an environment of uncertainty, so that employees are focused on avoiding negative consequences. Nothing about that is inspirational.
Inspiring leaders take a different approach. They understand that the cultural environment of any workplace can have a powerful impact on how employees see themselves and their jobs. The inspirational leader takes that knowledge and works to foster a culture of access and approachability. In that environment, employees are more likely to come to their leader for advice, assistance, or conflict resolution.
When leaders present themselves as approachable, their team members will know that their thoughts and opinions matter. They will feel included in the workplace culture, especially when leaders are savvy enough to use inclusive language that shares credit for success with everyone on the team. This type of leader can inspire an entire team to adopt that same approachable demeanor, ensuring better communication and collaboration throughout the organization.
Of course, being truly approachable requires a leader to develop and use a host of interpersonal skills that can improve their workplace relationships with everyone on their team:
Active listening, which helps them to ensure that every team member feels as though they are seen, heard, and appreciated for the value they bring to their roles.
Resilience, which enables them to bounce back from any failure, without blaming others or succumbing to emotional turmoil that might harm the team's motivation.
Stress management, which is vital for leaders who need to maintain an even temper in times of trouble. Leaders who can keep their calm when everyone else is panicking will always find that their employees appreciate that stability amid chaos and uncertainty.
When experts talk about all the traits that make for an effective leader, vision is typically ranked near the top of any list - and rightly so. Leaders with strong vision are often among the most dynamic personalities in the business world. When they speak, people invariably listen to what they have to say. But how can you recognize someone who has this type of visionary approach to business?
To effectively answer that question, you need to understand what vision means in terms of leadership. It is not simply having a strong idea about your mission and what you hope to accomplish. Indeed, it goes well beyond that. Vision is an image in a leader's mind that enables them to imagine their long-term goal as though it were already achieved. It is a clear “vision” of what the future will look like if the leader's goals are accomplished.
A leader who has that kind of well-developed vision of the future can inspire followers to share in that dream, if the image can be properly conveyed in a convincing way. This requires clear communications that compellingly sell that vision to others. Done properly, this communication can inspire them to adopt that vision and motivate them to work tirelessly to bring it to fruition. Savvy leaders understand how to inspire their followers to take ownership of that vision, ensuring that they too are passionate about reaching the leader's goals.
No matter how visionary you might be, it won't translate into inspirational leadership if you lack passion. But what does it mean to be passionate about your vision and goals? Passionate leaders believe strongly in their vision and mission, and that drives them to pursue their objectives until they make those goals a reality. Because passion is fueled by emotion and a deep connection to meaningful goals, it creates the enthusiasm and energy that leaders need to maintain their motivation.
But how does that passion inspire others? Perhaps a better question is how could it not? If you consider all the great inspirational leaders throughout history - including leaders of countries and businesses - they have all been passionate about their vision and ideals. Consider Churchill during World War II. His passionate belief in the inevitability of his country's victory against the Germans was conveyed in speeches that rallied his nation to defend itself throughout the conflict.
Passion in a leader is one of the most powerful character traits, and a quality that can only be developed by being courageous enough to let those emotions fuel your actions. Passionate leaders are singularly focused on ensuring that their actions make a real difference. When passion is tied to a sound vision and strong communication skills, it can become contagious as that leader's followers find themselves adopting that same level of enthusiasm and excitement about the mission.
Without passion, employees are often unfocused, disengaged, and less productive than they might otherwise be. When workers are inspired by a truly passionate leader, however, their engagement rises as their own passion grows. An inspiring leader whose followers share a passionate commitment to making a difference can more effectively develop and maintain a more engaged and motivated team.
Have you ever had a boss who seemed like they were trying to be something that they weren't? If so, then you probably didn't find that person very inspirational, did you? The reality is that most people are repelled by people who don't seem comfortable in their own skin. A lack of authenticity can lead to a whole host of leadership problems.
Leaders who are pretending to be something they aren't often disguise their flaws to make themselves appear more competent and “perfect” than they truly are. That leads them to also try to hide their mistakes, or blame their errors on others. In fact, these types of people tend to make every decision with their own best interests in mind. As a result, their values may seem to shift constantly, depending on which principles will help them to maintain their persona at any given moment in time.
Authentic leaders take a different approach to how they present themselves to the world. This type of leader is not afraid to be seen as a mere mortal and wants people to see them for who they are. They embrace their flaws, are proud of the challenges they've overcome, and are perfectly willing to share details about their life and success – as well as failures – with their followers. Instead of offering a phony image of themselves, they recognize the inspirational power that comes from being truly authentic.
Of course, they also understand that an authentic leader can inspire others to be themselves too. An inspiring leader who always maintains that air of authenticity can foster a workplace culture in which every employee feels comfortable being themselves. This can be a powerful way to develop the type of team that is unafraid to work together as one, harness individual strengths into team effort, and take the risks necessary to overcome any challenge.
Remember how we talked about authenticity? Well, for leaders, being truly authentic needs to be coupled with a high degree of integrity too. How important is integrity for an inspiring leader? Well, consider the words of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said:
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
When leaders have real integrity, their followers will see that they not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. In other words, they strive to demonstrate their values through their actions, always doing the right thing – regardless of the cost. There are few things more inspiring than a leader with integrity.
In any environment that includes both leaders and followers, the latter always look to the former as a model for their own actions and behaviors. When a leader internalizes a company's mission, vision, and goals, and then demonstrates a commitment to those things through consistent actions, their team will be inspired to follow their example.
Still, to fully understand why this leadership quality is so essential for any inspiring leader, it's important to recognize how a leader's integrity impacts an organization. A leader who demonstrates integrity will be seen as honest, reliable, and worthy of employee trust. They keep their word and always treat others with respect.
Employees who follow leaders like that tend to perform at higher levels, find greater job satisfaction in their roles, and show greater loyalty to their team and company. Why is that, though? It's simple. Leaders with integrity inspire others to demonstrate those same types of qualities in their own lives. Over time, that quality impacts their behaviors in ways that benefit everyone on their team and the company's bottom line.
Putting people first
Inspiring leaders also put other people's needs before their own. They practice servant leadership that shows their compassion and concern for their team, customers, and other stakeholders. No matter the current needs of their mission, they always maintain that people-first approach and focus on ensuring that their employees are treated as valued members of their team. They understand that each of their followers has a role to play in the company's success, and they know how to convey that to everyone around them.
As you might expect, though, this people-first focus requires more than just showing compassion and care for others. It also requires a relentless focus on providing the tools, skills, and resources that each employee needs to do their job. In addition, a truly people-focused leader will make sure that they engage with everyone on their team, while simultaneously providing them with enough autonomy to properly fill their roles.
Leaders also need to focus their efforts on empowering each member of their team, to help them unleash their full potential. They provide the ongoing support that employees need to further their professional development. Truly inspiring leaders know how to successfully motivate their team to push through self-imposed limitations by challenging their own preconceptions and moving beyond their comfort zones.
It's important to recognize that putting people first does not require a leader to coddle poor-performing employees or do their work for them. It is also not an excuse to replace reason and good business decisions with raw emotion. Instead, it's a strategic approach to ensuring that each employee is empowered with the resources, training, and support they need to effectively add real, measurable value to the organization and its mission.
Tips to help you become a more inspiring leader
The good news is that all these qualities can be developed by any manager or leader willing to put in time and effort to change their approach. If you're a manager who wants to learn how to cultivate the qualities that can help you to provide inspiring leadership, the following tips are for you.
Find your own inspiration
One of the first things you need to do is to identify your own inspiration. You can start by focusing on a leader who you view as inspirational. That could be a notable visionary like Elon Musk or Richard Branson, but it doesn't even need to be anyone who has great fame. Maybe you had a boss years ago who always managed to inspire you to follow in their footsteps. What qualities did that person have that made you want to be more like them?
The point is that one of the best ways to learn how to inspire others is to find a role model and adopt their character traits and behaviors. If what they do works for them, there's a good chance that you'll find it working for you too.
Create your own vision
You also need to have a clear vision. Since you're a manager, your job is very different from the higher-level leaders in your company. As a result, your vision will end up being different too. But the process for creating that vision is the same. Simply create an image in your mind of what you want your team to look like in five years. What kind of relationships do you want to have with your employees? What would your team be like if every member reached their full potential?
Take this image as your vision for what the future can be and then figure out what you need to change to bring that vision to life.
Focus on your team
Recommit yourself to doing everything you can to provide the leadership your team members need to reach their potential. Think about the types of training, mentorship, and other tools that you can implement to ensure that they have the skills and agency needed to increase their value as employees. Make sure that you put their needs ahead of your own, giving them the feedback and support they need to be the best they can possibly be.
Lead by example
Finally, lead by example. Focus on being open and honest with your team. Communicate with them regularly and make sure that you're engaged in their success. Commit to being yourself, so that they see the true and authentic you. Above all else, make sure that you demonstrate your passion and dedication to achieving your management vision and never let them forget the important role they play in making that happen.
Developing these qualities can help you to become the inspiring leader you want to be
Managers who want to help their teams reach higher levels of success can struggle if they are unable to find ways to inspire their employees. Fortunately, there are many common traits shared by every inspiring leader. By focusing your efforts on developing these inspirational leadership qualities, you can become a more inspiring manager and help your team to reach its full potential.
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