Have You Been An Inspiring Leader?
During this past season I have been exceptionally busy which has caused me to wonder how emotionally available I have been to my team, especially to inspire them.
What does it mean to be inspiring? Is it important to inspire our teams? How can we be inspiring leaders?
When I think of inspirational speeches, immediately William Wallace’s appeal to his men in the movie Braveheart comes to mind. Riding in front of his troops on horseback, he energetically encourages them as they face the Roman army:
“Run, and you’ll live…at least for a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance—just one chance—to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, [with growing excitement] but they’ll never take our freedom!”
While this moving oration has almost become cliché, it clearly demonstrates what it means to inspire, as well as the need to inspire the people we lead. When people get scared, leaders must encourage them. When people question why they must sacrifice, leaders must explain it to them. When people wonder if their leader believes in the cause, we must show up and lead the way.
Inspiring our people is critical. The best leaders know that and do it consistently and effectively. As I have asked myself, I also invite you to ask yourself: Have I recently been inspiring the people I lead, my direct reports, and everyone in my organization?
Let me share with you some principles I have been reflecting on regarding inspiring people.
What is the difference between motivation and inspiration?
To motivate people is to push them to action. To inspire people is to deposit an idea in them that makes them want to push themselves and others—an idea, that if fed, can self-generate. William Wallace had a lot of bravado on his horse as he addressed his troops, but it wasn’t his swelling tone that inspired them to move. It was the idea that it is better to die free than to live without freedom.
What is an idea that you keep ready in your mind to share with your people when inspiration is needed? An idea that will stay with them even beyond the moment it is shared?
What does inspiring others do for people?
1. Inspiration creates a reason to fight. Inspired people are ready to conquer the mountain, charge the darkness, and do more than ever before. Inspired people have a fire in their belly and an unquenchable need to see a goal met.
2. Inspiration creates passion for life. Inspired people are excited about life. They are passionate and on fire. If you are a leader, how have you provided your people opportunities for inspiration and a space to live it out it? The more opportunity and support you offer, the more likely they are to follow you.
3. Inspiration creates a focus to work. Inspired people tend to focus on the task and the goal that is the subject of their inspiration.
Two Traits of Inspiring Leaders
1. I truly care for you. I recently read a book about Napoleon’s leadership. It is notable that even though he was a brilliant strategist, always present with his troops, his success was clearly in part because he cared for the individual soldiers. He always talked to the troops, and he invited them to dine with him. He made sure they got everything he could afford for them. People who inspire us for a great cause communicate that above all, they care for us individually, maybe even more than the cause. They are willing to battle alongside us. These leaders communicate that they are not above us. If you aim to inspire your team, but cannot care for them genuinely, then your inspiration may fall flat.
2. I truly care for the cause. Inspiring leaders genuinely care for the cause. It is not a temporary love they have; it is a deep, often lifelong, cause they fight for. We see these leaders sacrifice, study, toil, sweat, and bleed for their cause. Their unwavering belief and personal investment inspire people to listen and follow.
Why Leaders Must Inspire Their People
Beyond what I shared above, there are two more reasons we must inspire our people:
- It’s the only way to reach others. Many times, inspiring people is the only way to reach them. This becomes more important the higher you advance, particularly when it is not possible to reach each person individually.
- It’s our role. If our team is not inspired, guess whose job it is to inspire them? Ours. If we chose to lead, then part of our responsibility is to inspire people. Don’t look to others to do it. If our team or organization is stagnant, depressed, or supine, there is one person to blame. The leader.
How to be an Inspiring Leader
- Get inspired. This may be the most important step toward inspiring people. The first question is: Are you, as the leader, inspired, excited, and passionate about the work you are leading your people into? It is important to remember that inspiration rarely happens automatically. It requires active thinking (ex: making time for critical thinking) to reveal what fires you up about what you do. For me, I am passionate to create and lead organizations containing three strands: 1. Everyone feels loved and empowered; 2. Everyone is pushed to grow; and 3. Together, we make an impact on our community.
- Stay inspired. To get inspired takes a cause; to stay inspired requires intentional work. In the business of leadership, it is only natural that we become consumed with work and slowly forget the reason behind our inspiration. To stay inspired, I write down the reason for my inspiration and read it a few times a week.
- Look inspired. As a leader, you are on stage, all the time. Imagine if half the time William Wallace walked around discouraged or depressed. We must be aware of our body language, and even if we momentarily feel down, we must remember to project confidence and passionate inspiration to others.
- Tell your story. When you share how you started your journey, how you began with little or no resources, how you found your passion, and why it matters still to this day, it always connects with people.
I hope the principles I have shared ignite your passion to be the inspiration your people need and deserve.