I was participating in a group exercise once and the question for each person was: “Name someone you respect and admire.” The group was made of entrepreneurs, so the usual suspects came out: Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc… but then one CEO surprised me with his answer. He said he admires “any leader who is able to create an organization that thrives by inspiring people around them.”
That really caught me off guard and has stayed with me. I’ve started noticing that some CEO’s drive and manage their team through discipline and rigid structure, some by having fun as a peer, some through fear (and those are usually the most insecure leaders, by the way)… but I now agree with my friend that the most impressive leaders are those who realize it is their primary duty to inspire their team to greatness. They have a vision, a singular direction, and they are able to share that vision and get their team fired up to chase the vision as if it were their own.
Here are some of the things I’ve noticed about leaders who inspire, and maybe this will help you take a look at yourself as a leader.
- When you visit an office and a team where there is an inspirational leader, you will have the feeling that nothing points to them. I don’t mean physically in the office as much as I mean when you talk to the team. Do they have to run everything by ‘the big guy?’ Do they refer back to the big guy’s plans? or do they talk about the organization’s plans as their own? Does the team own their projects? or are they simply delegates for an individual dude?
- Does the leader inspire by knowledge of the details? Many times a team can be really demotivated when they feel their leader doesn’t understand what their day is like. Can the leader pull up a screen in their software or web site and already know with incredible detail what is going on and how to function? (By the way, I’ve met several inspiration leaders who can even write a little code, here and there… and they tend to connect with their team exceptionally well.)
- Does the leader know their job is to inspire? Do they make obvious and intentional efforts to lead with mature, level-headedness? Do they keep their pulse on their surroundings and practice awareness to the level of positive/negative energy on the team?
Believe it or not, I’ve even heard of some leaders who disagree with this point. They believe that their job is not to inspire, but to manage and create discipline and rhythm. Maybe there is a valid point there, but I know what kind of leader I want to be, and I know what kind of leaders motivate me.
What do you think?