Let’s Lower the Bar on Inspirational Leadership

1390882Since the 1980s, leaders have been told they need to inspire their followers to accomplish great things. Researchers and popular books have asked leaders to be transformational, charismatic, servants and above all authentic. Along the way, the ability to tell great stories that are emotionally moving has raised the bar for leaders speaking in public. Some leaders are studying TED talks to unpack what they think is needed to become inspiring.

If public- speaking is more frightening than death for most of us, than how much more angst does the example of Mandela, Jobs, and various TEDs create? In fact, researchers say inspirational leadership has many forms. A leader need not dance in the footlights to create interest and excitement for change. Here are four ways to inspire that don’t require a historic speech.

• Inspire with new ideas. Many people like to learn and are intellectually stimulated by new concepts, practical applications and perspectives. You can offer a new take on an old situation, and you can do research to show what others are doing. The world’s a big place, but it’s easier than ever to seek out new and novel ideas. Spend time doing your homework and then show and tell.

• Inspire with your commitment. Commitment is shown by action and attention over time. If you stick to what is most important to you, others will notice. They’ll also notice if every shiny distraction turns your head. People are inspired by leaders who stick to what they believe is important and, time and again, give attention and energy to that. Your message doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but it should be consistent. Your personal hard work will inspire others to work hard too.

• Inspire with celebration. Many leaders are embarking on change programs that will take months and years to implement. The ups and downs of that kind of a journey can tire and demoralize even the most committed followers. Take the time to make visible the link between daily small actions and the long-term goal. Don’t let people plod along, head down, through the drudgery. Stop and smell the roses. Have fun, make merry and thank everyone for staying the course. Whenever possible, give people the platform to tell their stories.

• Inspire with optimism. You don’t need to paint a false picture of a wonderful future in the clouds. However, we know that organizations, and people, move more quickly toward a positive future with benefits they can grasp now. Watch that your language is optimistic without being ridiculous. Ensure that you are having possibility conversations. Ask appreciative questions to find out what’s working, and leverage your strengths. Start using the solutions-focussed approach and asking people “If you woke up tomorrow, and knew the way to make it work, what would it be.”

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