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?