Inspirational Leadership – a Key Emotional Intelligence Competency

“The most effective leaders make people feel that they want to show up every day and give it their best shot.  They make people feel good about who they are and the work they are doing.  They inspire the best out of people.”

–  Stewart D. Friedman in Total Leadership:  Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, Harvard Business Press, 2008

Inspirational leadership – one of they key competencies in emotional intelligence – is all about encouraging extraordinary performance and greatness.

In a recent survey of more than 1500 managers, people were asked what they wanted most in their leaders.  The most popular answer, mentioned by 55 percent of the managers, was “inspiration.”  When asked if their current leader was “inspiring,” only 11 percent said “yes.”

If you’re concerned you have to become a motivational speaker in order to inspire people, you can rest assured this is not the case.  (This may come as a relief to individuals who are still working on their presentation skills.)

The stereotypical charismatic extroverts aren’t necessarily true inspirational leaders.   In fact, “quiet leaders,” or “Level 5 Leaders” as described in Jim Collins’ bestselling book Good to Great, often make the best, most inspirational leaders.

The ability to inspire people starts on the inside, with a strong set of values based on respect, trust, developing people, honest communication, a clear sense of the business and adding real value.

One of the reasons inspirational leadership is so powerful and produces such potent results is that it contributes directly to fulfilling the emotional needs of employees.

Inspirational leaders do six things extremely well.  They:

  • Maintain a strong strategic focus.  They see the “big picture,” they take a long-term perspective, ensuring they do only those things that add value and where they have the resources to do a great job.
  • Articulate a clear and compelling vision for where the business, department or team is going in the future, and communicate that vision in a way that inspires, motivates and mobilizes people to action.  They articulate their vision with a quiet passion and in a way that people feel they own it.  Everyone understands how their work fits into the greater whole and how it makes a difference.
  • Demonstrate humility.  These are not “larger-than-life” leaders with big personalities (think Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca, Al Dunlap).  They are unpretentious and even show vulnerability from time to time.  They don’t sweat not having all the answers.  They can leave their egos behind.  They also take the time to thank others.  A simple, genuine “thank you” can be extraordinarily powerful, in a humble kind of way.
  • Are deeply principled and quietly courageous.  They treat people fairly.  They don’t withhold information, they are honest, and demonstrate true respect for others.  They give credit to others, and take the blame rather than pointing fingers elsewhere.  They maintain high standards of personal integrity, genuinely care about others, demonstrate trust (and are trusted in return), and behave in accordance with their expressed beliefs and values.  If they commit to something or make a promise, they deliver.
  • Display intense professional will.  They can’t tolerate mediocrity.   They never lose focus of the goal (in fact, they cease doing anything extraneous).  They demand great things from themselves and their people.  They even hire, groom and develop highly talented successors to ensure the work they’ve undertaken will be carried out even more successfully after they’ve gone.
  • Involve others and are accessible.  These are true participatory leaders who make time to get out and speak with people throughout the organization.  This informal contact inspires because personal contact is a powerful motivator.  They involve people in decisions and in bringing about change and innovation.  They give people the support and freedom to do their work.  They are exceptional listeners.  They fully welcome the sharing of ideas and information.  They foster open communication, and remain receptive to bad news as well as good.

The best leaders, inspirational leaders, promote a culture where people value themselves, each other, the organization, their customers, and the work they all do together.  They communicate how everyone makes a difference, and this energizes and inspires people to reach for great results.

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