There are thousands of definitions of leadership. After studying the field for years and interviewing thousands of great leaders, I define it this way: Someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others over an extended period of time.
There are six key words in this definition but one of the most important ones is the ability to inspire others. When you inspire others, you motivate them to do their best work, they set higher goals for themselves and achieve more.
Of course, not all business leaders think it's their job to inspire others and they couldn't be more wrong. Bill Courtney said it best:
Serving and attempting to inspire others is a responsibility, not a choice.
Becoming a true inspirational force in the workplace requires consistent effort and dedication-- and possibly changing some aspects of how you lead. Here are three ways to be a more inspirational leader since it's your responsibility, not your choice.
Great leaders fully believe in their company's mission and work tirelessly to communicate their vision to others. They display a type of enthusiasm and passion that is often referred to in psychology as "zest."
As Paula Davis-Laack who is an internationally known expert in stress and resilience explains in an article for Psychology Today, "Zest is closely tied to work satisfaction. In a survey of over 9000 employed adults, zest not only predicted general life satisfaction but also predicted work satisfaction and whether a person viewed their work as a calling."
Even if employees may not naturally feel zest, the good news is that enthusiasm is contagious. It's the reason why we feel motivated to clap or cheer when others do the same thing at a sporting event or concert.
Truly inspirational leaders bring this same type of enthusiasm to their everyday work, leveraging it as a powerful motivating factor that helps others become more engaged and committed to what they do. The key is that your zest and enthusiasm must be authentic.
Your people aren't dumb and they will know if your enthusiasm and zest aren't authentic. Allow yourself to fall in love with your work and share it like you mean it.
One of the best ways to ensure that your enthusiasm in the workplace comes off as genuine is to simultaneously demonstrate that you care about those you lead. While it might seem obvious, many leaders only focus on sharing their competence and expertise but forget to show others they genuinely care.
"Helping someone feel valued starts with you," explained Dr. Kristofer Chaffin, founder and CEO of Vitality Biologics, to me in a recent email. Dr. Chaffin works directly with professional athletes-- like the Indiana Pacers' Tyreke Evans and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark-- in the workplace.
For Chaffin, showing that you care is the best way to not only inspire those who might initially intimidate you, like professional athletes, but to earn their long-term respect and trust, as well. Continued Chaffin, "Business leaders must consistently show that they care through active listening, constructive feedback or seeking out an individual's opinion when making a decision. People are far more likely to buy into what you ask of them if they feel you genuinely have their best interests at heart."
Take time out to speak with different people in your organization. Ask questions and truly listen so you can better understand their needs and how to reach them. Don't be afraid to ask about what is going on in their life both inside and outside of work.
Inspiring leaders don't just talk the talk. They also walk the walk. They live out that definition of a leader by focusing on their actions and their example.
Demonstrating hypocrisy in any facet of what you do will lose the respect of your team and make it that much harder to motivate and inspire them. Consistently giving your best effort and following through on expectations and promises will inspire others to do the same.
One of the tricks I teach in the Building the Best Workshop is called the PTS Method. It's short for Prepare to Serve. The method is simple: anytime you change environments, say to yourself "Prepare to Serve." This technique will have you focused on your actions and example with much more thought.
Ultimately, what you do will matter far more than what you say if you wish to become a truly inspiring leader. As you consistently follow these principles in your interactions with others, you will serve as a lasting inspirational influence who helps others achieve greater outcomes.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.