Here are six ways leaders inspire commitment. Which best describes your style?
Gandhi. Martin Luther King. The Buddha. Malala. Gretta Thornburg. Mandela. Mother Theresa. Einstein. Lincoln. Jesus of Nazareth. Cleopatra. Joan of Arc. Obama.
There are some standout leaders that inspire us (and others). That move us to action. That are influential enough to change nations and cultures and civilizations. That we continue to study and learn about. Fun fact: over 16,000 books have been published on Lincoln alone!
Chances are that you or I aren’t going to make the history books. Or be widely quoted. Or lead revolutions or revolutionary actions.
Yet each of us can inspire. We can create a positive influence in any number of lives. You and I can make a difference for our families, our teams, our communities, and our workplaces.
We don’t need to be orators or generals or presidents or kings or queens. We can be plain-Jane or Joe team leaders, supervisors, managers, or VPs. We can be on the church council or the local non-profit board or the workplace social committee. We can be the person who organizes an ad hoc neighborhood improvement project.
As I think back to those “everyday” leaders that have inspired me, I think of Dot Kroehler, who was the executive director of the Head Start program, where I had my first professional job. Dot was unassuming (sturdy lace-up shoes) and soft-spoken. At the same time, she set exceptionally high standards and I expected total accountability for the learning and care of the children in the center. There were no excuses during a site visit for anything amiss… she taught me that my job was to create an environment where children and staff succeeded. Period. I learned more about leadership from her than any subsequent book or course I’ve taken.
If each of us, in our own way, can inspire, it raises the question of how one inspires. An interesting question with no one single answer.
This Harvard Business Review article, “What Inspiring Leaders Do,” by Zenger and Folkman sums it up quite nicely. It is not one thing… it is a lot of things. It is not one action… it is a series of actions over time. It is not the same for each of us… everyone has their own unique way of inspiring others.
Martin Luther King had the gift of vision coupled with soaring oratory. Who does not still get a shot of inspiration from his “I Have a Dream” speech?
Lincoln was pithier – his Lincoln address consisted of only 272 words delivered over three minutes. Yet he had dogged persistence and ability to wade into very difficult situations with vision and purpose.
Gretta Thornburg disarms us with her age and message. She exemplifies the wisdom of the ages packaged in her slight, 18-year-old body.
No matter how they inspire, people who inspire us help us lift our sights up higher. They open our eyes to new things, better ways.
They encourage us to carry on, even when we are weary. They help us get to places we could not imagine and do more than we thought we could.
But here’s the deal. There are lots of different ways to inspire – here are some common ones:
1. The Visionary – Those who create such a compelling vision of the future that others want to be a part of (and work to achieve it).
2. The Driver – They set stretch goals/challenges/deadlines that we feel are impossible, yet somehow, we come together to achieve that big thing.
3. The Principled Approach – The people appeal to an ethical or higher purpose. They seek justice, mercy, or a bigger thing and generate our passion to move toward that purpose.
4. The Enthusiast – Known for their inspiring speech coupled with high energy. Like a half-time coach, they are able to get us “fired up” and moving forward.
5. The Expert – This person is adept at finding the skills of each team member and finding ways to have them expressed. They inspire others to do their best by finding the best ways they can contribute.
6. The Collaborator – This person seeks input and shared work effort toward a bigger goal. They involve lots of people in tangible ways and together, forge a new way forward.
It is perhaps easier to see how others inspire us. We begrudgingly acknowledge the driver that pushes us hard and can recall those flashes of inspiration from a visionary. It may be more difficult to identify our own unique way of inspiring. Yet none of us are going to be good at all these approaches and can likely develop skills in a few others.
What are your strengths? What can you do to inspire others? Please share!
Side note: One way to inspire others is to see something in another and acknowledge it. You have a chance to do that by nominating a leader for the 2021 Evergreen Leadership Community Builder Award. Nominations are open from June 1, 2021 to July 31, 2021.
Fifteen award winners will attend a leadership retreat on August 27/28 – with programming, meals, and lodging fully covered.