How to be an Inspiring Leader

Surveys show that less than half of the employees, in various organizations and sectors, agree or strongly agree that their leaders are inspiring. Even fewer feel that their leaders foster engagement, or commitment, and model the culture & values of the organization.

Real breakthroughs in performance come from employees, who feel inspired by their leaders and organizations. To understand what makes a leader inspiring, Bain & Company launched a research program. This study uncovered that inspiring leaders are those who use their unique strengths to motivate individuals & teams to take on bold missions; and also hold them accountable for results. Further they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.

Here are some findings about how leaders, both inspire as well as get great performance:

  • The leader needs only one truly “inspiring” attribute

The study uncovered what makes a leader inspirational and revealed some surprising results; there are as many as 33 attributes that inspire people.

These 33 attributes help leaders in four areas:

  1. Develop inner resources: Stress tolerance, self-regard, and optimism help leaders develop inner resources
  2. Connect with others: Vitality, humility, and empathy help leaders connect
  3. Set the tone: Openness, unselfishness, and responsibility help them set the tone
  4. Lead the team: Vision, focus, and sponsorship help them lead

People, who can inspire others, come from incredibly diverse backgrounds; this underscores the need to find inspirational leaders who are right for motivating an organization – there is no universal archetype. A corollary of this finding is that anyone can become an inspirational leader by focusing on their strengths.

  • The leaders key strength has to match how the organization creates value

Effective leadership isn’t generic; nonetheless, to achieve great performance companies need a leadership that reflects its unique context, strategy, business model, and culture – the company’s unique behavioral signature. To win in the market, every company must emphasize specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

The study found that same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those “spikes” must be relevant to the way their company creates value. Spiky leaders achieve great performances by obsessing about specific capabilities that underpin their company’s competitive advantage. They make sure that these capabilities get an outsized share of resources and also provide key players freedom needed to continue excelling.

  • Leaders have to behave differently if they want employees to do so

Even with a clear idea of the company’s winning behavioral signature, leaders need to develop new ways of operating. Leaders find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviors in order to help their employees break out of culture-weakening routines. Inspirational leaders recognize the need to pick their moments carefully, thereby reinforcing a performance culture that’s inspiring.

Leaders can transform only by doing things differently; the more often they behave in a new way the sooner they become a new type of leader – an inspirational leader. Individuals who inspire are the gateway to employees’ discretionary energy, and that in turn is critical for making the most of an organizations scarcest resource – the human capital.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes, that inspiring leaders are those who foster engagement & commitment to model the cultural values of an organization. Further, inspirational leaders have “behavioral spikes” that are relevant to how the company creates value. Leaders, who both inspire people and generate great results, disrupt established behaviors in their organizations.

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