How can we be the type of leader that not only keeps our good people happy, and in the business, but is also a person that they actively want to be led by? In many workplaces, there is that one team that seem happier than everyone else, that one manager about whom other teams say ‘I wish he/she was my manager’. How can we be that person?
As we seek to be that person there are some factors we need to take into account when looking in the mirror and considering our own leadership behaviours. It’s important to consider your own context, and so having a read of the company’s leadership competencies would be a good idea. Consider carefully who your followers are. Millennial and Gen Y workers expect very different things to previous workforce generations. The traditional model of respect simply being granted because of position is quickly disappearing. Respect will be given (and can be quickly lost) based much more on judges’ merit. ‘Followership’ is based much more on how compelling the leader is, not what job title they hold. Inspirational leadership could be considered like this; it’s ‘firstly who you are, and secondly backed up by what you do’.
As is often the case, it’s worth looking backwards to move forwards. In 1978, James MacGregor Burns, a leadership expert and Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer, introduced the concepts of Transformational Leadership and Transactional Leadership. For transformational leaders, MacGregor Burns claimed ‘leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation.’ Meanwhile, a transactional leader creates an ‘I tell, you do’ or ‘give and take’ style of relationship. For the transformational leader, the emphasis is on the leader’s ‘personality traits and ability to make a change through example, articulation of an energising vision and challenging goals.’ From these short descriptors, we can begin to get an idea of the approach he is suggesting. The transformational leader seeks to empower the individuals through role modelling, effective objective setting, and motivation through inspiration. This all sounds very well and good, and we can all sagely nod our heads and agree that Presidents should certainly exhibit such traits. But what has this got to teach us, in our high-paced and client-focused workplace? If we return to our opening thought; that people leave managers, does that mean we all have to be ‘presidential’? No. However, we do all have to be ‘inspiring enough’, and so at least aiming for ‘presidential’ isn’t a bad place to begin.
When seeking to inspire others, there is little point in trying to be anything other than you. Firstly, it is far too exhausting a challenge to take on. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to keep up a façade for any great length of time. A better mindset to employ is to aim for developing into the best version of yourself that you can be. ‘What would I look like if I were being really inspirational?’ The answer to this will likely go a long way to answering the question of which areas in your own leadership you need to develop.
Of course, the area of inspirational leadership is much written about and many developmental areas can be identified. A quick Google search will bring up any number of ‘Seven Traits of Inspirational Leaders’ or ‘The Five Fundamentals of Inspirational Leadership’ articles. While each author has their own individual theories, there are some universal factors that commonly appear.
Stand up and be counted:
Inspiring leaders are the ones that face challenges head on, never sidestepping the difficult person or project, and who cope under pressure with apparent ease.
Inspiring leaders are compelling through their consistency. They seem to feel comfortable in their ownskin, and take full ownership of what they say and do.
Be really good:
It seems simple, but most inspirational leaders are very good – at something. Whether it’s a technical ability, level of knowledge or insight, or ability to motivate, inspiring leaders know their own strengths, and play to them as strongly as they can.
Steer the ship:
It’s important to know that you can’t be in the engine room, manning the radar, and captaining the ship. By empowering others and harnessing those around themto come together, inspiring leaders can make the sum of the whole greater than the constituent parts.
While you may be the spearhead of your team, the leader who inspires their followers acknowledges them at all times and doesn’t clamour for personal recognition. They regularly encourage and give positive reinforcement to their team while accepting personalpraise and recognition openly and graciously. They are not practitioners of self-deprecation.
The shoes of an inspirational leader can feel like very big shoes to fill. However, we must remember that, like any role, we can grow into it. The shoes don’t need to be fully filled on day one. Regularly ask for the input of your team and your peers on your leadership performance. Be humble enough to take guidance, while remaining comfortable enough in your own skin to continue being yourself – the best version of you.