By Louise Green

When employees aren’t just engaged, but are inspired, that’s when organisations see real breakthroughs, as inspired employees are far more productive and strive for greater heights. In the recent Sheffield Leadership Survey, we spoke to Leaders from across the South Island and, amongst other things, asked them “what is the one key leadership trait missing from your boss?”

Overwhelmingly, the answer we received was “The ability to inspire”. According to our results, we found that if you’re a good leader, your weakest trait is likely to be “the ability to inspire”. And if you’re a poor leader your weakest trait is definitely lacking in “the ability to inspire”

Some people equate inspirational leaders with being extroverted – i.e. confident, warm, assertive and inspiring. But introverts tend to be better listeners, are reflective and often more sympathetic communicators. The reality is that neither introverts NOR extroverts make the best leaders as effective leadership needs a balance of the two - and to be inspirational, you don’t have to be a raving extrovert!

People clearly want inspiration, but why is it important? Well, according to our research, both through the Sheffield Leadership Survey, DDI, and HBR, “the ability to inspire creates the highest levels of employee engagement and commitment. It is what separates the most effective leaders from the average and least effective leaders”.

So how do you do it? How do you inspire others? Talk to your average leader about being more inspiring and you’ll often get a possum-in-the-headlights reaction - they simply don’t know what to do!

Well known researchers Jack Zengar and Joseph Folkman gathered data from over 50,000 leaders and looked at those with the trait ‘inspires and motivates others to high performance’. They wanted to see what these inspiring leaders do differently, and the results are fascinating.

The results fell into TWO distinct categories. First, were the things that were specific and tangible that they did to inspire others. They:

  • Set stretch goals with their team.
  • Spent time developing their employees.
  • Engaged in highly collaborative behaviour.
  • Encouraged those about them to be more innovative.

Then there were things that were somewhat less tangible. These inspirational leaders were:

  • More adept at making emotional connections with their staff.
  • Better at establishing a clear vision.
  • More effective in their communication and willing to spend more time communicating.
  • Ardent champions of change.
  • Perceived as effective role models within the organisation.

Perhaps the most interesting finding that Zengar and Folkman discovered was that inspiration was something that was carried out daily (just like leadership). Some perceive that inspiration is something that leaders only do on the big occasions – like the ‘sermon from the mount’ at the company conference. The truth is that everything a leader does every day has an impact. Some leaders sit in their office all day – inspiring much? Others participate in management by walking around, engaging employees with their visible leadership. Small activity, big impact.

In summary, the message is clear … more is more! In other words, the more of these behaviours (bulleted above) a leader exhibits, the more inspirational that leader is perceived to be. These behaviours coupled with a focus on accountability, will unlock higher performance and engagement across your organisation.

 

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