The top qualities of inspirational leaders

10 tips to really stand out

Inspirational leadership can be a difficult thing to define and understand. You know a great leader when you’re working for one! Even then it can be difficult to articulate what it is that they do that makes them effective.

When people describe inspirational leaders they often talk about their actions – what they do and say on a daily basis. These actions seem to provoke an emotion in others to make them want to come to work, follow their lead and go that extra mile with energy and passion.

Inspirational leaders are often described as being authentic. According to Bill George (Authentic leadership), authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose; practice their values consistently with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are.

Inspiring leaders seem to bring out the best in people! After all, leaders are not defined by their titles or degrees but by how they behave in real-life situations.

The good news is, the ability to inspire and be a great leader is not always innate. It can be developed.

It requires honing and cultivating the talent that each person already has. I’m lucky enough to see this when I coach leaders, particularly those who are committed to developing a deep self-awareness and who build up their strengths to reach their highest potential

So if you are preparing to go into a leadership role or you may be in a leadership role already, here are 10 critical things that inspiring leaders do that really stand out. Any of us can do the same.

1. Develop and manage your leadership brand

In everyday business we may not really think about our personal leadership brand, we may think about what we’re good at and what contribution we make, however, others may have formed a perception based on the value that we add.

A leadership brand is not trivial. It conveys your identity and distinctiveness as a leader. Choosing a leadership brand can help you focus. In developing your personal leadership brand ask yourself:

  • What is the value you want people to associate with you?
  • What do you wish to be known for? Your leadership brand should reflect your skills, strengths, uniqueness, qualities and passions
  • What results do you want to achieve in the next year based on the expectations of your clients, shareholders, team and the organisation.
  • Construct your leadership brand statement, then test it e.g. I want to be known for being—————–so that I can deliver———————“

Once you have created your leadership brand, make your brand identity real – make sure your brand is embedded into day-to-day work by living it and acting accordingly.

2. Engage others in shared meaning

Have a clear vision and explain this to your team. Your vision should explain the reasons behind your decisions and communicating that clearly. Ensure that each member of your team has a clear understanding of his/her job role, key objectives and accountabilities. Leaders with a strong vision and high results orientation tend to emphasise the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritise the highest-value work.

3. Develop your Emotional Intelligence

You may think emotional intelligence (EQ) is about the warm and fuzzy, let’s get clear on why emotional intelligence is a critical success factor in leadership. According to TalentSmart:

Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance out of 33 other important workplace skills

  • EQ explains 58% of success in all types of jobs
  • 90% of high performers are also high in emotional intelligence
  • People with high EQ make more money – an average of US$29,000 more per year
  • Every point increase in EQ adds US$1300 to an annual salary

In essence, you just won’t operate at your best and reach your full potential as a leader if you don’t manage the EQ elements of doing business.

Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

4. Project confidence

We gravitate to confident leaders because confidence is contagious, and it helps us to believe that there are great things on the horizon. The trick is to make certain that your confidence doesn’t slip into arrogance. Confidence is about passion and belief in your ability to make things happen, when your confidence loses touch with reality, you begin to think you can do things you can’t and have done things you haven’t. Suddenly it is all about you. This arrogance makes you lose credibility.

Inspiring, confident leaders are still humble. They don’t allow their accomplishments and position authority to make them feel that they’re better than anyone else. So stay grounded, believe in yourself and don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and don’t ask others to do anything you aren’t willing to do yourself.

5. Don’t control everything

This can sometimes be the hardest lesson to learn. There is a huge difference between being in control and being controlling. The later usually comes from not allowing others to shine, or from not understanding the benefits of delegation and teamwork. If people are better than you doing something then let them do it, but be sure that you give them the authority to make it happen. Step back and let go of control. It’s amazing how it can reduce your stress levels.

What we also know from recent neuroscience research is, an increase in the perception of autonomy and control feels rewarding to staff in the work environment. The opposite is true if we work for controlling leaders – a reduction in autonomy, when being micro-managed, can generate a strong threat response. When we sense a lack of control, the experience is of lack of agency and the inability to influence outcomes.

6. Be a Role Model

Learn early in the piece that Leaders live in a goldfish bowl. Everyone is watching you. Inspiring leaders evoke trust and admiration not just through their words but also their actions. They walk the talk and demonstrate integrity everyday. Nothing will make you more exemplary than demonstrating the behaviours you ask others to demonstrate. Nothing undermines a high performance and a positive work culture than the behaviour of a leader that is inconsistent with the verbal communication.

You must always be sensitive to the fact that everything you say or do may be magnified times in people who report to you and or look up to you for guidance. A positive remark from you to someone over whom you exert influence or control has inordinately positive effects. A negative remark or criticism has inordinately negative effect. Choose your words and your behaviour with care.

7. Support others

What we know of inspiring leaders is that they tend to do the simple things right, they are those who listen and empower others to do more than their staff thought they can do. Their passion is contagious; their energy is in everything that they approach.

According to a recent Mckinsey research paper four kinds of behaviours account for 89% of leadership effectiveness – ‘supports others’ is a key one. Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how others feel. Show authenticity and a genuine interest in those around them. Through these qualities they can build trust. Trust is the quality that binds all relationships together. The willingness and ability to trust people that you look up and report to is absolutely essential to your ability to perform at your very best.

8. Focus on strengths and praise well

The most critical quality of leadership is the ability to focus on strengths. As Brian Tracy points out, strong people have far more weaknesses than they have strengths. You can never achieve greatness by compensating for your weaknesses. But you can become an outstanding person by identifying your areas of great potential strength and by then focusing all of your energies on becoming outstanding in those few areas.

9. Customise your approach

Not all human beings are the same – a basic concept but something that is often overlooked. In order to optimise your effectiveness as a leader, you must have the ability to customise your approach on a person-by-person basis, based on the situation at hand. Your capacity to execute this concept will play a huge role in your ability to get the best work of your team and other partners along the journey.

10. Coach and advocate

Be a coach, a sounding board and a safe place to talk. Advocate for them; help them get the promotion they’ve been hoping for and leverage your influence on their behalf.

Inspiring leaders are uplifting. You come away from your meetings with them, thinking I’d really like to work here. Most of the inspiring leaders I’ve come across have shared most or all of the qualities described above. Practice these qualities by continuously improving on your skills and you also will gain the respect and admiration that you deserve.

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ban.weston@wmconsulting.com.au