In a recent Zenger/Folkman study, 50,000 leaders were assessed by their colleagues. The study findings indicated that one (1) leadership competency among the sixteen (16) measured separated the most effective leaders from average or ineffective leaders: inspiring leadership.1 The ability to inspire was also identified as one of the three most important leadership traits in a survey completed by IBM of 1,700 CEOs across 60 countries.1 This leadership research supports Performex®’s own experience and data on effective leadership: refining tools that inspire and motivate others to act is a vital part of any leadership development strategy.
What is an Inspirational Leader?
At Performex® we consider ourselves to be the expert at transforming technical specialists and professionals into highly effective leaders. Frankly many of these high IQ individuals struggle with what is seen as a high EQ (emotional intelligence) behavior – or Inspirational Leadership. Too often people with EQ scores lower than their IQ see inspirational styles as “cheerleaders” and equate inspirational leadership with an extraverted, outgoing, enthusiastic presence. Although some effective leaders fit this mold, our data suggests that these stereotypical attributes do not do justice to those who have a comprehensive ability. Our data and other research shows that inspirational leaders apply a multitude of approaches and employ a range of communication styles to motivate others.
So what makes an inspirational leader? Although this answer is subjective, research completed by Zenger/Folkman identified differentiated behaviors of inspiring leaders. Tangible behaviors include establishing stretch goals with their team, spending time developing their team and engaging in collaborative and encouraging behaviors with colleagues. This research also measured some of the less tangible characteristics of inspirational leaders. These characteristics include the ability to make emotional connections with subordinates, communicating a clear vision for direction and communicating more effectively and more often than other managers.
Identifying Role Models
With the range of leadership and personality styles of those that inspire us, how can we learn to be inspiring ourselves? Performex® coaches utilize a very effective method to help our participants with this concept by the active observation of role models.
How Performex® Does It
During the coaching session we ask the participant to identify who in their organization or in their prior career was an inspiring leader. We seek to find someone that the participant respects and would aspire to be like. Then we use constructive questioning and other proven leadership development strategies to have them identify what it is this person did or does that creates the inspiration. Inspiration is more than a spontaneous emotional reaction; if they don’t know, instruct the participant to observe the leader. For effective observation, the coaching participant should find a setting where they are free to study the leader without other obligations or expectations. Ask the participant to take notes and observe both what the leader says, and how they say it – paying very close attention to non-verbal communication or habits. The participant should also consider how the leader keep their entire audience engaged through eye contact.
Once the participant has compiled notes, ask them to review and reflect upon the experience. They should discuss their observations and identify behaviors and techniques that can be practiced on the job or, even better, using video tape to practice and observe their own communication. This exercise can be repeated with other professional or personal role models. Consider adding the specific behaviors and techniques to the coaching participant’s written development plan for inspirational leadership.
Encourage the participant to “see themselves” in their mind's eye as the inspiring leader they have observed and critiqued. They should see themselves expertly delivering the speech or facilitating the discussion using similar terminology, emotional content and nonverbal styles. Visualization works. According to Albert Foong, “The ability to see things before they actually happen is what enables us to pursue our dreams and ultimately achieve them. In fact, the better we visualize the future we want, the better our chances to make it happen.”
Given the critical role technical specialists and professionals play in today’s economy, it’s easy to see why the ability to motivate and inspire them to be fully engaged is so highly prized by companies. Thankfully there is overwhelming evidence that even the most challenged managers can become superior leaders if they make it a very high priority and get proper assistance from a skilled coach.
1 Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. “What Inspiring Leaders Do.” HBR Blog Network, 20 June 2013. http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/06/whatinspiring-