Inspirational Leadership

September 15, 2010

Do you remember the last time you were inspired to do something great? Something that you didn’t think you were capable of doing? When I think about inspirational leadership, I think of people in my life that pushed me beyond what I imagined and I was extremely thankful for it. It was a math teacher in 6th grade, a basketball coach in 8th grade, a business professor/mentor in college, a manager at AT&T, an early investor in my first startup, a board member today. All of whom I wanted to work beyond what was expected and excel at a higher level for. They always believed you were capable of more. They always believed you could be excellent. On the other hand, I’ve worked for and worked with people that were plain “managers” – people who dictated work, didn’t expect excellence, didn’t provide challenges/authority/responsibility, and didn’t care. As I’ve reflected on my own leadership experiences, here are some thoughts I have on becoming an inspirational leader – and to be honest, these are just thoughts as I’m striving to become a better inspirational leader:

1. Inspirational leaders do not sell you short. I recently met an entrepreneur that’s hiring senior team members and is having a difficult time. I asked him if there were any up and comers in the company that he could see becoming a senior manager and he said there are some strong performers, but they just don’t have the skills to do it. I’d argue that an inspirational leader might take a risk and put the title of “interim Senior Manager” title on one of the star performers and see if they can step up and do the job. An inspirational leader in my mind provides opportunities beyond what the individual or the leader thinks the individual is capable of. I’d argue that the results might just surprise you! Don’t sell people short, invest in your stars and give them enough responsibility where they might fail. Push and coach, as Pete Carroll likes to say “Always Compete” – make sure they have an opportunity to win or lose and learn from it. If all they do is win, you just might not be using them enough! Another analogy, if they are kicking butt in Triple A ball in baseball send them up to the Majors and see what they can do. You just might have an Albert Pujols on your hands!

2. Inspirational leaders gets rid of people quickly. I don’t know how many times I’ve mentioned this in my blog. Bad employees, bad leaders not only don’t produce, they also have a huge negative impact on your team. Your leadership becomes undermined and confidence in your philosophies start getting eroded – and, this is on your payroll! I’m definitely not arguing that you should get rid of people who disagree with you, but people who are always negative, never sees solutions, doesn’t care, never accountable, cannot be on your team. No matter how inspirational you might be to the majority of your team, they will always wonder why you’ve kept the non-performer on as long as you have. I hate to say this, but I’ve worked with these people in my for-profit and non-profit businesses, and they are so easy to spot – they’re difficult, they wear you down, they take up your time, and you can’t focus on what’s important. I’m tired being around those people. It’s time to be a real leader and let them go quickly and with dignity. They may even thank you for it later.

3. Inspirational leaders do not lead through fear. They lead through confidence and shared vision. Think about the managers you’ve worked for that you were always worried about getting fired, angry outbursts, or caused undue unhealthy emotional and physical stress. Although it does motivate some, it becomes a quick spiral to burnout for star performers. Fear can be a reasonable short-term strategy, but rarely sustainable. Inspirational leaders instill confidence and purpose into the workplace. There is a clear vision amongst the team and confidence in the leader. I like the analogy that the leader sets out on which mountain to scale or war to fight, but relies on the team to own the strategy and execution to scale the mountain or win the war. The inspirational leader is the cheerleader that instills confidence into each person that the mountain is worth scaling and the war is worth winning. Do your employees and team members know what the vision is? Do they confidence in you to lead or are they fearful of you? Or neither?

4. Inspirational leaders know how to live it out. Ghandi’s famous quote – “Be the change you wish to see” – rings true for me. He is an inspirational leader that lived it out – there was a real genuine quality to his leadership. We saw it in Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi, and others. Are you fired up about the shared vision? Are you living it out? Is there a positive ethos, momentum, and determination that people can sense when they are around you? This is hard to measure, but do you feel inspired each day you wake up and interact with people? Ask those around you – do they get more energy after spending time with you or less energy? If you live it out, people will feed off of your energy.

We can all be inspirational leaders that are making a difference and helping others achieve their goals and dreams – we just have to be intentional about it. I love the video from Al Pacino above (especially with the NFL season upon us), he sets the stage as the coach the war the team will have to fight and the players need to execute to win. What do you think?

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Comment by Kathleen Pacheco
2010-09-17 05:52:48

There are too few inspirational leaders. I’ve worked in business and education, and all too often leaders are chosen politically. They say they are qualified for the job and have the credentials. This does not mean that they have the skills needed to lead inspirationally. The few inspirational leaders I was lucky enough to work under — all with totally different personalities — only made it much more difficult to feel respect for those who were/are poor leaders and managers. Yet the system holds them in place, and the very things they demand of their staff, are the very things they lack or are not good at doing themselves.

Comment by Steven Smith Subscribed to comments via email
2010-09-17 06:20:51

As someone that has spent a considerable amount of time working with professional and intercollegiate teams in the sports of football and basketball, I have seen how both sides of the spectrum affect the entirety of the team. Those who lead through fear are afraid themselves that what they are doing is not working and are fearful that someone else is “coming after their spot”.

Football coaches at the professional level used fear as a motivator for their players because it’s a fact of professional football life that someone else, more hungry than you, is out there waiting for you to fail. The rub is that after a while, that fear wears off and the player starts to doubt the coach’s ability to communicate the information that they need for the game. I’ve also seen coaches who are just the “pat-on-the back” type only. This method also looses steam over time.

When I was in a leadership position, I made it a point to be a hybrid. With this method, I found that you get the maximum effort out of your employees and less apathy. They are less likely to complain and more likely to perform. You will get the respect that you give and will leave a lasting impression on them as well.

Thanks for you blog today, I found it very insightful and it let me know that the theories that I have developed about leadership are true and can work.

Comment by Daniel Stoica
2010-09-17 06:24:13

Awesome Post!

An Inspirational Leader is distinguished from a Manager or Administrator in that the manager / administrator, manages and / or administers resources and / or processes, whereas a Leader inspires people to do that well.

Thank You for sharing.

Comment by Terry Barber Subscribed to comments via email
2010-09-17 07:31:53

Great insight. There are actually two constructs for inspiration. There is inspired to and then there is inspired by. What you have illustrated is the powerful combination Being inspired BY (teacher, etc.) that led to action. Thank you for affirming that inspiration is not about just some transcendent experience.
Inspirator at Large!

Comment by Cindy Gallop
2010-09-17 07:49:09

I love this post Andy. Spot on.

Comment by Catherine Subscribed to comments via email
2010-09-17 10:30:59

Love this post! I would just add to number 1, about not selling short, is that the inspirational leader also coaches his/her people if they need a little support to be excellent. So yes, expect excellence, and support and mentor as needed. And if you are a leader not so good at mentoring, get some help with that, internal staff or external consultants can add value and help grow the team.

Comment by Marie
2010-09-18 10:19:41

I just came across this blog & the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me to read this. I am in the process of building a business sharing all-natural & certified vegan health and wellness solutions with people and as part of this effort I am building a team of people to work with.

Sure enough I had one gentleman who claims he wants to be successful and challenge himself but he put no elbow grease into his effort. I discovered his inability to stay focused and organized enough to be able to properly support clients. At first I would allow his lack of passion on his part to really effect me. It all came to a head when he made a statement that “I was too demanding on him”.

It was at that moment that I came to realize that this man cannot take responsibility for his own destiny and as soon as he is challenged he will find the easiest way to place blame on someone else for his lack of effort to achieve because in his world he is the victim and it’s not his fault that he doesn’t have the desire to apply the effort he needs to be the best he can be, it’s everyone else’s fault.

I immediately discontinued my efforts of trying to develop the skills that he needed to get results and as soon as I discontinued my involvement with him, the burden I felt from his lack of development was completely removed from my shoulders as I came to realize that it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing the right things to develop him and succeed, but that he really deep down doesn’t have the desire to do what he needs to do to succeed.

As they say, you can lead the donkey to the well but you can’t make ’em drink the water.

Learning to let go of someone who is a drain on your business and efforts is a skill that will reap many positive results because as soon as the negative person is removed from the environment, then you have the opportunity to fill this person’s space with someone who wants to achieve and be challenged.

Thank you so much for your insight & I will bounce back here to check in on future thoughts/ideas that you share.

All the best,


Comment by Autism Symptoms
2010-09-21 16:13:25

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

Comment by Gravuri
2010-10-05 16:55:40

Wow – now that’s perspective! I think we often react in agreement or disagreement because of our emotions, but hearing another side, passionately presented, really makes us think!

Comment by Lynda Silsbee Subscribed to comments via email
2010-11-07 21:35:36

Inspirational leadership is a bit of an oxymoron. We believe we need leaders to be inspirational but the research shows that this isn’t true. GREAT leaders do a few things very well but it isn’t about inspiration or charisma .

Comment by Guy Farmer
2010-12-07 15:26:07

Great post Andy. It’s amazing how, as leaders, we can dramatically transform our workplaces by believing in our employees and getting out of their way. Inspirational leadership is a great way to build workplaces that value people and where leaders help people grow and succeed. It also just feels better for everyone involved.

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Comment by Catherine S Subscribed to comments via email
2011-09-03 05:17:05

Hi Andy, I think you nailed it. However, I don’t think you need to be a great orator to be able to be an inspirational leader. I believe that as long as you speak from the heart with honesty, integrity, caring and purpose, you don’t have to be Al Pacino or Martin Luther King – nor do I think you have to be a huge personality. At least, that has been my experience. I’m afraid that sometimes we get a stereotype of what a great leader sounds and looks like, and it makes it feel unattainable for some folks with a more introverted personality. Just sayin’. Thoughts? Loved the post in general.

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