Think about people who have been inspirational in your life. Why do you consider them inspirational? What did they do? Great communication skills may be part of it, but for me it goes well beyond what they say—it’s more about who they are and what they do that matters more than giving a great speech.
In a phrase, someone who is inspirational makes me want to be a better person in some way, which shows up on the job and outside of work as well. Most of us could probably come up with a list of world leaders, sports figures or others whom we find inspirational. The good news is that we don’t have to be world renowned to be inspirational to others. In fact, those who may have the most impact on us are probably people we know and associate with every day.
I would offer the following messages to anyone seeking to be an inspirational leader:
1. Have a core set of principles you seek to live by. Believe in something, have a standard of what’s right and wrong, both in terms of business practices and about life in general. I’m not asking you to “preach” to me, but sharing what you believe and why it’s important to you increases my respect for you a hundred-fold. Perhaps I won’t agree with you on all your beliefs or principles, but knowing you have standards that you consider core to who you are engenders my trust and gives me tremendous confidence in you.
2. Set an example in how you live. I know this is difficult and sounds a bit lofty. I recognize that an inspirational leader won’t be perfect, but I do expect that you to try to live by your principles and own up to your mistakes or imperfections. Just sharing your failures occasionally is inspirational to me, especially when coupled with examples of how you have bounced back from disappointments.
If you want me to work well with my team members, then show me how you work well with your peers. If you want me to genuinely care for our customers or clients, then show me how you demonstrate that caring, including for the “little guy” that feels blown off by “customer service”. If you say work-life balance is important to you, then show me how you demonstrate this balance in your own life.
3. Help me believe in myself. This is more than just being a cheerleader, rather it’s about building my confidence through providing opportunities that truly help me grow, including doing what you can to help me be successful, which sometimes may include providing me with “painful” feedback. Allowing me to occasionally take a risk and fail and learn from that failure is part of helping me believe in myself too. Keep me focused on what I can do rather than on what I can’t do.
4. Don’t try to change who I am. Allow me the freedom to be myself and help me become more of who I already envision myself to be. Don’t try to pound me into a square hole at work, but rather let me find a way to go about the work using my own unique brain, talents, and approach. Allow me to express my individuality and contribute in ways that perhaps neither of us might have considered before.
In summary, don’t worry about trying to be the world’s greatest leader, just try to be the best leader you can. I will guarantee that never forget your efforts and the impact you’ve had on me. And you can bet that I will do my best to emulate those same qualities with those I am privileged to lead one day.