Leadership That Inspires

Leadership that Inspires

Great leadership doesn’t mean you have to have a dynamic, outgoing personality. Some great leaders are introverts and others are extroverts. There are leaders who are great networkers and others who prefer to work within their own team. Some leaders are assertive while others are aggressive. These are all personality traits. Leadership is not about personality but rather our behaviours. It is how we manage ourselves, our people, our peers and our management.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”

Leadership that inspires others incorporates these 7 characteristic behaviours:

Know Yourself

There are times when we must make the final decision. There are other times when we must hold back our inclination to make the final decision. Leaders that inspire know that. They know when to let their team decide the best course of action and when they must take decisive action. This is because leadership success is built on the capabilities of our people. Stealing away their achievements by claiming final ownership only creates resentment among the team and a desire to do whatever it is you want rather than what they know to be the best course of action. While we may feel more comfortable micro-managing, inspiring leaders understand the importance of building confidence in others so that they can help us to meet our goals.

Taking over the work of others also stifles innovation; the ability to develop new approaches to their work. Take a look at yourself. Are you leading and inspiring others or are you just managing? There is a difference.  It’s helpful to undertake an assessment to determine your competency as a leader and work on weaker areas that may be hindering your performance.  When I coach leaders I often will begin by undertaking a 360-degree feedback assessment to identify the leader’s specific strengths and opportunities for development.  This provides the necessary direction for meeting expectations.

Create a Shared Mission

Great leaders have a vision. Share this vision with your team. Then let them create a “mission” that identifies what they collectively will do and how they’ll do it. By internalizing its meaning, they will more likely choose behaviour that upholds the organization’s values and reflect behaviour that opposes them. This “mission” will become the basis for how the department will be functioning. It is future focused, inspirational and will provide clear decision-making criteria. It is timeless; a dynamic, living description that enables everybody within the department to focus their efforts in a supportive manner.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
– Lao Tzu (Chinese Taoist Philosopher, founder of Taoism, “Tao Te Ching” (also “The Book of the Way”). 600 BC-531 BC)

Build Team Performance

Individual performance is important but great leaders manage success through the team. Individuality in thinking doesn’t lead to true innovation. Innovation is a collaborative process where individuals from different disciplines come together for the purpose of creating and/or improving products, services and processes. We grew up thinking that individual importance and competition was a key to success. But inspired leaders build great performance through the collective knowledge and experiences of the team – not just the individuals. This means bringing together all of the teams’ strengths and weaknesses to create new directions for the department or organization.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.“

Tell Them the “What,” Not the “How”

We know what to do. We’ve been there, done that. Great leaders ensure the team understands “what” to do. We leave the “how” to them. We let them surprise us with their results. The art of silence is difficult but powerful. It ensures our goal is met without telling them how to get there.

The Red Queen, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in one scene, leads a chase with Alice. Neither seems to move very far. The Red Queen explains to a confused Alice: “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Our organizations have this same challenge. Large departments often under-perform despite increased resources and capacity. They continue to run yet don’t seem to move forward.

George S. Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

Train, Mentor and Coach

We hire employees on the basis of their past knowledge and experiences. Yet every organization and every department has a unique culture and approach to work. The goals are different. The customers are different. We must train, mentor and coach our team to reach ever increasing levels of excellence. They won’t get there on their own. Train, coach and mentor them to ensure both individual and team performance meets our expectations. Then watch them continue to grow and exceed our goals.

Manage Performance

We trust our people. We instill in them a sense of responsibility to the team, the organization and our customers. Despite our best efforts there will be some individuals that don’t fit into our culture, our approach to work, our values and principles. If we don’t address these performance issues, the rest of the team will begin to falter. They will look for blame and excuses for poor work performance. They will challenge our leadership ability for not addressing performance issues. If we focus on the performance gap which is the difference between work expectations and work delivery, we can manage the behaviours, not the personalities.

Build a Culture of Innovation

Strong cultures of innovation can be seen in organizations that demonstrate their commitment to innovation when they build innovation into performance management. They measure leader’s performance on the basis of their ability to create new value-added products, services and ideas. As well, they assess the extent to which these leaders undertake this jointly with staff, rather than independent of their staff, because this demonstrates a clearer understanding of the use of an innovation process versus simply the result of a leader’s directive.

Leaders demonstrate their commitment to innovation in their regular department meetings by focussing on the exploration of new ideas. They train their team in the innovation process. They allow time for employees to explore their ideas. They apply an aggressive effort to build new opportunities based on the development of new services, products and processes.

A strong, committed leader will create an environment that supports innovation and will drive it forward. They will accept risk. A risk-aversive corporate culture is seen in many research studies as the number one killer of innovation. Short-term goals, particularly quarterly numbers, create an environment where the longer-term actions necessary to drive innovation are quashed. This directs employees to avoid innovations that require longer-term thinking; rather, they’ll develop innovations around ideas that help to meet the shorter term results that leaders are seeking.


Leaders that inspire demonstrate these 7 behavioural characteristics. They are not always aware they embody them. But you can see it in their performance and the performance of their team.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca