I recently did a talk at the Tower of London (see my Huffington post blog for more on that). The Tower was built by William the Conqueror and took 30 years to complete. Now William was certainly an inspiring leader effectively defeating the Anglo Saxon King Harold at the battle of Hastings and establishing a Norman administrative structure on England, thereby ensuring it became one of the most powerful governments in the world. This was achieved by a man who never spoke English, was illiterate and was born illegitimately- quite an achievement. His military prowess and smart appointment of skilled people beneath him ensured he ruled England until his natural death.
Throughout the ages we have seen many different styles of leadership and some terrible, and some inspiring leaders. The key to an inspirational leader is their ability to effect change. This can be even at the personal level- think of your favourite teacher- the one who convinced you learning was worthwhile! Inspiring leaders come in all shapes and sizes but they share certain characteristics. What they achieve is to get people working towards a target, even when at first they are reluctant. Inspiring leadership empowers those beneath them and makes people feel they can achieve the impossible.
Characteristics of inspiring leaders
A special power that some people have naturally that makes them able to influence other people and attract their attention and admiration
So, if you don’t have natural charisma what might an inspiring leader have that creates an effective team?
Passion – usually we think of people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mother Teresa in this category of passionate leaders. These were people with very strong beliefs and an absolute determination to change what they felt was wrong with the world. Their inspirational leadership was on a grand scale- life changing for the people they sought to help. However, passion cannot be faked, not for long anyway. People who follow others tend to eventually spot insincerity and the leader who seemed inspiring fast becomes a pariah when their fakery is uncovered.
Vision – some leaders seem to have their own crystal ball – they can see into a future yet to be imagined and they make it happen. To be an inspiring leader you have to be able to get others to buy into that vision – it needs to seem as if it is a possibility. How is that achieved?
Matching vision to benefit -Smart leaders know what people want. Their vision to create a better place, product, service, and way of working….or a better world…matches the desire of those working for them. They can translate the vision into, “What’s in it for me?” Employees want to know what they gain from following an inspiring leader and working hard for them.
Involvement – you cannot inspire unless you include others. That means listening to their ideas, asking for feedback and empowering them to forge ahead when they have an innovative approach.
Connection and Story-telling – human beings naturally enjoy stories- and they are a powerful motivator. We need to “see” what our inspiring leader sees and stories naturally bring to mind a picture of what could happen. We feel a human connection through stories and match them to our own experiences.
There are other traits of inspiring leadership that are more quantifiable such as work ethic and knowledge but they are more the cement that holds together the leaders’ ability to deliver their vision and results. The characteristics above are generally shared by most of the leaders on anyone’s list of inspirational leadership.
Inspiring leaders from around the globe
The Global Shapers Community is a World Economic Forum group of young, civically engaged leaders aged between 20 and 30.
More than 1,000 people from 125 countries and 285 cities responded to a WEF call to reveal the world leaders, past and present, that they most admired, and felt most inspired by.
My personal top 5 inspiring leaders do have 3 of the above in them; Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Steve Jobs but also include Socrates and Confucius with their intellectual challenges.
Who do you believe are inspiring leaders? Let me know – and why you feel they are inspirational- comment below.