One of the definitions of leadership that I like goes something like this.  A leader is someone who can get others to accomplish a goal that they would not do on their own accord.  Let’s face it, if work were fun, we wouldn’t have to be paid to do it.  Right?  So a leader needs to be able to inspire his or her team to accomplish the goals they have set out.  Simply put, one of the most important roles of a leader is to inspire others to a shared vision.

But what does that mean?  There are two key objects in that statement, besides the leader.  The first is “others”.  I know many who call themselves effective leaders, but in reality are not.  They are effective “doers”.  And because they are smart, hard-working people, they are often called a leader.  The second is “shared vision”.  An effective leader must work to get others on board with the vision they have set out for them.  This is not always an easy task.  Especially when the vision may not be what the “others” are wanting.

Forbes writer George Bradt once said, “One of the monst fundamental lessons of leadership is that if you’re a leader, it’s not about you.  It’s about the people following you.  The best leaders devote almost all of their energy to inspring and enabling others.”

Two Keys to Inspiring Others

We recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.  Dr. King had an extraordinary ability to enlist others into his shared vision.  I believe he embodied the ideas laid out in the bestselling book, “The Leadership Challenge”.  In it, writers James Kouzes and Barry Posner identify this as one of the five key practices of exemplary leadership.  They break it down into two fundamental elements:

  1. Envision the future by imagining exciting and enabling possibilities
  2. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.

Envision the Future

What does it take to accomplish any goal?  Many will say grit or tenacity.  Others may say it takes a good plan.  Others may point to skills or knowledge you need.  But first, you have to have a goal.  And to have a goal, I believe you first have to have a vision.

Have you ever traveled by car to the top of Pike’s Peak?  It’s a rather intimidating journey.  The road does not contain guardrails above a certain distance above sea-level.  The road, at times, appears to just drop off into the sky. If you are afraid of heights (as my wife is), then this journey is precarious at best.  Terrifying at worst.  To get past your fears, one of the keys to remember where you are going.  I had to constantly remind her that we were going to have an incredible view once we made it.

Leaders have to inspire their teams to get through the scary times as well.  Whether it’s a change to the organization structure, a new product to launch or any other perceived change, there will be fear.  Let me be clear with that.  Any change will cause fear.  Even if it seems very minor.

One of my clients is considering a monumental change in policy.  This change will affect each and every person involved, as well as everyone they partner with.  Some are for the change, others are against it.  And even those for it, are a little bit scared.  When working with their leader, I challenged him to get comfortable with the vision that he was painting for them.  And then he had to be prepared to share that vision over, and over and over again.

Enlist Others in a Common Vision

It takes more than just telling about the vision, however.  You have to be able to inspire others to travel the road with you.

Think about it.  If you paint a picture of what it’s going to be like at the top of Pike’s Peak, but your team isn’t interested, they won’t go there with you.  What’s more, if it serves them no value (let’s say they are all blind), then it doesn’t matter how much you pain the vision, it won’t be a “common vision”.  So it’s critical that you work with your team to find out what interests them, and find out where your “common vision” lies.  It might mean that you have to adjust your vision slightly in order to get them on board.

Enlisting others into a common vision requires you to inspire them to follow your lead.  Effective leaders have a high level of Emotinoal Intelligence (EQ) and are able to effectively inspire others to follow their dream.

Become an Inspirational Leader

Bain and Company conducted a survey and identified 33 distinct and tangible attributes that are statistically significant in creating inspiration in others.  Of these 33 traits, effective leaders should have at least a few of the traits.  The traits are divided into four quadrants:

  1. Developing inner resources
  2. Connecting with others
  3. Leading the team
  4. Setting the tone

I believe the most effective, inspirational leaders have at least one strength in each quadrant.  For me, I believe I know my strongest point in each area:

  • Developing Inner Resources – “Flexibility” is probably my best trait in this quadrant.  However, flexibility can also be a challenge for me as well, because I have a tendency to be too flexible.  “Stress tolerance” is another trait that is usually pretty solid for me.  But, to be honest, I got a little stressed about choosing that one.
  • Connecting With Others – Empathy” is my best trait in this quadrant.  I am able to understand and appreciate other people’s feelings and needs.
  • Leading the Team – Vision” is the trait I most identify with.  I love the idea of creating a compelling objective and enlisting others to participate in it.
  • Setting the Tone – Responsibility” is the idea of taking proactive ownership, giving credit for success and being accountable for mistakes.

Take a look at Bain’s research.  Look at the qualities and check to see if you have at least one strength in each quadrant.  If you don’t, then put together a strategy to improve in those areas.  There are several ways to do this.  I’ll talk about that more in a future blog.

Inspire Others to a Shared Vision

As a leader, this is truly one of your most important roles.  As a coach, I work with leaders who have blindspots.  I help identify those blind spots and then assist them in defining a strategy that addresses them.  If you are interested in learning more about your blind spots and becoming a more inspirational leader, contact me today.