Two inspirational force majeures recently took place, separate yet magically intertwined (like Hall & Oates).
Jeanette Epps became the first black astronaut assigned to the International Space Station.
At the same time, Hidden Figures, the movie about three black women with mathematics and engineering expertise that brought them to the center of the U.S. race to the moon, launched in theaters.
The irony and significance were not lost on me.
Jeanette Epps herself recently reviewed Hidden Figures and revealed that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, NASA’s “human computers,” were inspirations for her to become an astronaut.
“Because of those women, I can have bigger dreams,” Epps said in her own review of the movie. “Not just dreams for women of color, it’s for all women who want to achieve great things that were only for men at one point in time.”
Could the women of Hidden Figures have imagined that, even though they had to drink from a separate coffee pot in NASA offices 50 years ago, another black woman would make history 50 years later, not only sharing coffee pots but also close quarters with the world’s greatest astronauts?
These women inspired not only a golden age of space travel but also a future generation of leaders in space.
And you can inspire a future generation of leaders too, a lot of them, and even from afar, and even if you stink at math.
Take Richard Branson, who recognizes his parents as key mentors, but acknowledges his quirky great-uncle Jim, whom he didn’t know well personally, as an inspiration in his business decisions:
Branson says that Jim “didn’t have such a personal impact upon my life, but had a huge effect on the way I think about the world.”
Or take Billy Joel, who credits the Beatles with inspiring him to become a musician, and then years later says that the bravery of Malala Yousafzai helped him out of a decade-long depression.
Later on, Pink admitted that she was likewise influenced from afar by Billy Joel.
The impact of an inspiring leader can be felt for generations.
But what if you’re not a crazy uncle or a legendary musician?
As a leader, you must aspire to inspire.
A major study examined a half-million employees and their assessment of 50,000 leaders in terms of 16 core leadership competencies. It showed that the ability to inspire “is what most powerfully separates the most effective leaders from the average and least-effective leaders. And it is the factor most subordinates identify when asked what they would most like to have in their leader.”
So inspirational leadership is well worth the pursuit. Here are 10 insights to help you become a more inspirational leader:
- To Inspire, Be Inspired
To inspire others to action you have to emit a passion for your own actions. Financial guru Suze Orman has openly admitted that the single secret to her success is her willingness to show her passion for what she is doing.
Warren Buffett says that at Berkshire Hathaway, 75% of the managers they hire are independently wealthy and don’t need to work – by design. Hiring such a profile allows them to focus on talent that simply loves and is passionate about what they’re doing “because that passion brings out an enthusiasm and a dedication in others.”
- Be Custom-Built Contagious
Closely related to point # 1 above, while it’s certain that you must have passion to foster passion, it’s just as essential that you demonstrate this passion and energy in your own way. If the energy is emitted in an inauthentic manner, it defeats the purpose. Yes, you can light up the room with loud and heartfelt oratory. But some of most inspirational leaders I’ve ever seen might not even speak very often, but when they do, it is with a quiet authority and an underlying and intense focus and passion.
- Remember It’s About Them, Not You, A Greater Cause, Not Your Cause
There’s an underpinning of modesty and a sense of servitude inherent in inspirational leaders. They are connectors, not climbers, more interested in relationships than their own reward. They ultimately see their role as serving something greater than themselves and couldn’t hide it if they tried.
- Motivate Them to Prove You’re Right (About Them)
Sorry for the tongue twister – here’s what I mean: the first part of this involves a commitment to actively instill confidence in others. When we do, often the first thing they want to do is demonstrate we were right to place such confidence in them. They will show their appreciation by wanting to further earn yours.
The second half of this idea is to not to express confidence in someone and detach, letting the energy from the positive transaction wane and leaving the compliment feeling empty. Instead, remain an interested stakeholder in their ultimate success. For example, rather than just stating your confidence in someone, you can say, “I believe in you and I believe you’re going to crush this project. I’m here to help you see it through to the successful conclusion of which I know you’re capable.”
- Inspire People to Become Better Versions Of Themselves (Not Better Versions Of You)
Inherent in this sentiment is a commitment to understand the unique DNA of those you are interacting with and a desire to help them build from that singular blueprint. It is both an investment in and an understanding of the individual. It requires unearthing the best qualities of each person.
- Communicate A Clear, Resonant Vision with Stretching Goals
People want to know where they are going, and why. They want to be connected to something bigger than themselves and pursue goals with intrinsic value that help them accomplish things important to them. Communicating such messages in a clear and compelling manner is a central function of the inspirational leader. People also want to be challenged and be given a chance to rise to the occasion. So set the bar high without being unrealistic.
- Act Like A Pace Car
In auto racing, the “pace car” is a car that rides ahead of the field for a few laps at a high, even-keel speed before the race starts. Then, having enabled a running start, they drop out of the way as the cars behind accelerate past with vigor. Likewise, the inspirational leader sets the pace for the organization, role modeling the behaviors they want to see, helping the “field” to a running start, and then getting out of the way after fully charging and empowering the organization.
- Provide Reality and Hope
The key here is to provide a balance of both. It’s hard to be inspired by someone who infuses high doses of optimism and possibility, but is clearly not grounded in reality. Likewise, while transparency is inspiring, when that transparency involves a rough state of the union address, the constituents need to hear a reason to believe and a plan for better, brighter days ahead as well.
- Know The Tenets Of How To Be, Not Just How To Do
Inspirational leadership is not just about how to do, it’s as much about how to be. Research shows there are 6 core attributes that employees find most inspiring in their leader – 6 How To Be’s if you will:
– Be Humble (people are drawn to humility, especially when it includes showing vulnerability)
– Be Authentic (which makes you accessible)
– Be Accountable (including a zeal for facing challenges head on)
– Be Caring (including caring enough to really listen to what others have to say)
– Be Trustworthy (including doing what you say you are going to do – the well-documented secret to Nelson Mandela being such an effective and inspirational leader)
– Be Driven (including an ability to get to the heart of the issue, cutting through the baloney, making things happen)
- Get (And Expect) Results
The truth is, while losers can be lovable and, yes, at times inspiring, you’re much more likely to be inspired by a lovable winner. Winners get results. Getting results inspires an organization on many levels. And expecting results does the same.
Make this that moment – the one in which you recommit to inspirational leadership. The net result will inspire everyone involved – including you.
This article was published by Scott Mautz and Natalie Hastings
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