4 Keys to Being an Inspirational Leader

Take a moment and think about inspiring l leaders you know personally or who you’ve heard about. Most of them probably didn’t start out thinking “I’m going to inspire others through my leadership.” They just set out to harness their skills, knowledge, and passion to do work they thought was important. And, by doing that and succeeding, they inspired others along the way to join them in realizing a particular vision.

If you are in a leadership role, part of your job is to inspire the people with whom you work.

And while your IQ likely helped you get that role, recent research reveals that there are limits to how much intelligence alone makes a leader. The higher you go in an organization, the more emotional and social competencies distinguish the average from star leaders. This means you’ll need to employ a new set of skills in order to mobilize an effective team to work together to meet the objectives you put forward – being able to inspire and motivate foremost among them.

Can you develop your capacity to inspire? Is being an inspirational leader a learnable skill? From the perspective of the model of Emotional Intelligence that Richard Boyatzis and I created, the answer to that question is YES. Inspirational Leadership is one of 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, each of which are skills you can develop.

Recommended Reading: Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence: 12 Leadership Competency Primers

The Inspirational Leadership competency is the ability to inspire, to guide people to get the job done, to bring out their best. With inspiration, you can articulate a shared mission in a way that motivates, and offer a sense of common purpose beyond people's day-to-day tasks. To inspire, a leader must be strong in other EI competencies, including emotional self-awareness, emotional self-control, positive outlook, organizational awareness, influence, and teamwork.

Four Key Qualities of Inspirational Leaders

Along with these other specific EI competencies, here are four key elements that distinguish inspirational leaders. Such leaders must:

1.    Focus on the group/organization and its larger mission, not on their own success

2.    Walk their talk

3.    Be trustworthy

4.    Be able to think outside the box

1.    Focus on the group, not just your own success

Leaders who want to inspire those around them need to focus on something larger than their own personal success. Team members or other subordinates can sniff out a “I’m just trying to look good so I can get ahead personally” attempt to be inspiring. An inspirational leader needs to demonstrate both a clear understanding of the team or organization and its mission, and have a compelling message about how to further that mission, and why it’s important.

2.    Walk your talk

In the Primer on Inspirational Leadership I recently co-authored, my colleague, Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University pinpoints the importance of a leader’s credibility. He says that before leaders can inspire, they must themselves be inspired. If you are trying to galvanize a team or organization, your actions will be closely scrutinized. Showing your team that you are living what you want them to live will go a long way toward convincing them to join you.

3.    Be trustworthy

To really sign on to follow a leader’s direction, especially in high-stakes environments, people want to know that they can trust a leader. They want to know what the leader’s track record is for following through on their commitments and recognizing accomplishments. How well has the leader supported their team? How accessible are they to people within the organization? How well do they know the individuals and groups with whom they work?

4.    Think outside the box

Sometimes, what makes a leader able to inspire others in an organization is their ability to “think outside the box,” to consider alternatives or perspectives that don’t follow whatever is the norm. That kind of boldness is what attracted my friend and colleague, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz to his long career working with a global executive search firm. He was drawn to how his company developed a revolutionary fee arrangement and collaborative approach, one inspired by their founder. That leader saw the need for a change in how things had been done in his field, and took the risk to make those changes in his firm. That boldness and committed follow-through fostered great engagement from his staff.

It’s a tall order to become a truly inspirational leader, drawing on a broad range of competencies and personal qualities. What would your colleagues and team members say, if asked, about how well you embody these four key elements? Consider asking a trusted colleague for some honest feedback, then work on developing some foundational competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence to lay the groundwork for Inspirational Leadership to emerge.

(This blog was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with prior permission from Daniel Goleman.)

(Image Courtesy: Pixabay.com)

Categories: Leadership

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Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman is the Co-Director of Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations....

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