Stopping something good is better than never starting it at all.
Leaders do all kinds of things for others to consider them a leader. To name a few, creating strong trust-based relationships, casting a compelling vision, and constantly coaching for development. While each of these are essential, there is one attribute that, without question, causes someone to consider you a leader, and that’s how well and how often you inspire.
Former LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner took the idea of inspiring people to a new level when he defined leadership this way, “Leadership is the ability to inspire others to achieve a shared objective.”
Not only is Weiner right, but research and other great leaders back him up. Richard Branson identifies the ability to inspire as the #1 leadership skill. According to an IBM study of over 1,700 CEO in 64 countries, the ability to inspire was one of the top three leadership traits. When leaders inspire they get an engaged team that gives maximum effort and produces maximum results.
When leaders inspire they get an engaged team that gives maximum effort and achieves maximum results.
However, knowing it’s essential to inspire as a leader and doing it are completely different things. I am sure of this leadership lesson in all my years of studying, teaching, and coaching leadership.
Your potential to inspire others depends on how inspired you are.
When you look at the word inspire, it’s best defined as filling (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. It comes from Latin meaning, “to breathe life into.” I describe it in a recent keynote talk here:
It’s not hard to get behind the idea that inspiring others is an essential leadership skill. However, sustaining it and doing it consistently through verbal and body language communication is difficult.
When one stops inspiring others, it’s like how you or I get out of shape. We don’t make a conscious decision to stop working out or eating healthy. It happens subconsciously because we are busy doing other things, or we get complacent in our position. Suddenly, it’s been a month since we have been to the gym, and pizza is a regular part of our diet. Here is what happens when leaders stop inspiring on a timeline:
Within 2-4 weeks - Nothing significant changes. However, engagement begins to dip a few points. The focus starts to shift from being mission and habits-focused to outcome-only-focused.
Within 3-6 months - Visible changes start to happen. There will be some bad turnover in one or two key roles. Meetings and activities will be solely focused on outcomes and results.
Within 18 months - Significant changes start to happen. Turnover is a problem, as crucial team members and those who could have become vital team members have left. HR or Learning and Development has been called in, results have dipped, burnout is high, engagement is low.
Within 3-5 years - Changes have happened. The leader has been replaced, demoted, or left the role on their own accord. For those that stay, it’s typically because they are the CEO and the work culture is deficient or even toxic.
There are many strategies and tactics leaders can leverage to “breathe life into someone else” consistently. Here are a few of my favorites from leaders featured in Building the Best.
To inspire your team consistently, they first have to understand how much you care about them. To do this, you must reject the notion that words hold great power. Instead, accept the power of actions. The first action has to be getting to know them on a professional and personal level.
"Great leaders first care about others in order to share the inspiration inside them."
Start by asking them questions about their journey, experiences, challenges, aspirations, and what drives them. Instead of just going through the motions, be intent on listening and remembering so you can adjust your actions in the future to show them you heard.
Like all great relationships, the only way to get there is by dedicating time. A mentor of mine always told me, “kids spell love, T-I-M-E.” The same is true in showing people you genuinely care about them. Your time is valuable, and you can’t get it back. Devoting time to someone else indicates that you care, and they are more important to you.
Everybody, whether they admit it or not wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves and do meaningful work during our lives. Part of your responsibility as a leader is to connect yourself to a deeper cause or mission and then do the same for those you get the opportunity to lead.
“The leaders that inspire are purpose-driven and constantly repeat the deeper mission behind their work.”
If you lead a team, do not go another minute without being clear on why your team does what it does and its purpose for existence. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without even considering how their work impacts the organization and how it impacts people beyond its walls.
By connecting people to a deeper cause, you’ll magnify purpose and immediately raise the ceiling of what’s possible. When things get difficult (and they will), this deeper cause will give your team a reason to continue, even through the most trying times.
Here’s the hard truth about inspiring others. Not everyone will be inspired. Not everyone will buy into the shared cause, and you can’t choose for them. Your responsibility is to inspire them to action, and if they end up making a choice not to get on board, it’s up to you to find someone else that will.
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.