FROM THE LEI STAFF: This is a good and useful article which may well cause the reader to ask him/herself the same question the author faced. That’s a good thing, and finding the answer is an even better thing.
Reposted by LEI
As a people person, I always enjoy visiting new places and new cities as it provides the opportunity to meet new people and spark new conversations, some of which can lead to some very thought-provoking discussions.
For example, a few weeks ago, I met with a group of leaders to exchange ideas on the growing challenges found in today’s increasingly uncertain global business environment. During this event, I had a one-on-one conversation with one of those leaders, a discussion which began with that typical starting point of sharing our respective stories of what lead us to the work we do today.
When I shared insights based on some of my recent writings on leadership, this leader asked me an intriguing question – ‘how do I go about inspiring others?’
Now many of us have examples of successful leaders who we look up to for inspiration and insight into how we can succeed in the endeavour of leading others. I’ve often been asked which leaders I gain inspiration from and while there are many examples, the ones I often cite are Nelson Mandela and Walt Disney.
But the interesting thing about this particular question is that it shifts our focus inwards onto ourselves in order to examine what we’re creating through our own leadership. That we move beyond simply evaluating our leadership in terms of various established metrics like goal achievement, productivity, and efficiency ratings, in order to ask ourselves what seeds are we planting in the hearts and minds of those we lead?
In other words, the question becomes less about who inspires us and shifts towards answering how are we inspiring those around us through our own actions and words?
As my conversation with this leader continued, it became clear that this was the concern he was having. Although he had facts and figures that proved he was helping his team to reach various assigned targets, he didn’t know if he was inspiring his employees the way his leadership heroes had inspired him. And what’s more, he admitted that he honestly didn’t know where to begin.
Granted, this query can seem to be a bit conceited. After all, if we think about those leadership figures we all admire and look up to, there’s a clear and undeniable reason why they’ve earned our respect and admiration.
And yet, there’s one question that revolves around every individual we look to as a source of inspiration and guidance for today’s leaders – do we see them as inspiring leaders because they achieved extraordinary things, or is it because they themselves were extraordinary in how they chose to lead?
It’s an important distinction to make as in my conversation with this leader, it was clear that he felt the only way he could inspire others in order ‘to keep those motivating fires going’ was by achieving remarkable things. And I’m sure many other leaders share this belief as well because of how we view these iconic leaders through that lens of their incredible achievements.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t recognize how we’re impairing ourselves through this self-limiting belief. After all, it’s difficult to achieve extraordinary goals because there are so many factors outside of our control. And this, of course, is what makes these achievements extraordinary.
But when it comes to being extraordinary, it really comes down to the choices we make for ourselves – not only in terms of how we choose to show up to lead those under our care, but also in terms of the life we choose to live for ourselves.1
In other words, the power to inspire others exists in all of us. We just have to choose to be present to use it.
To illustrate what I mean by this, think about any leader who you look to as a source of inspiration. No doubt they’ve achieved remarkable things. But as you look past their achievements, what do see about them as a person? Are they someone you’d enjoy being around, someone you could learn from? Do you feel that they would see your true potential and encourage you to live up to it?
I’m sure for most of you, you’d answer in the affirmative. And this exercise reveals another important truth – to inspire others is to empower them to make that better version of themselves a reality.
And this is especially pertinent for today’s leaders to understand as leadership is about more than getting things done; it’s also about inspiring the best in others.
This is why I found this leader’s question to be so intriguing because if you spend time pondering and discussing it, you realize that it’s not conceited at all to question how you inspire others. Indeed, it’s not enough to believe in ourselves to inspire others; we have to believe in them as well.
In his book “Long Walk To Freedom”, Nelson Mandela – one of the leaders that continues to inspire me in how I approach the nature of leadership and helping others to succeed – wrote: “There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
It’s a quote I’ve used in some of my talks because it helps to shine a light on how we can use our leadership to do more than hit quarterly targets, but to truly make a difference in the lives of those we lead, and those we serve. And that is by understanding that inspiring others involves instilling hope about what they can achieve and who they can become.
As leaders, we’ve come to recognize that our organization’s ability to succeed no longer rests on proprietary technology and/or processes, but in the people we have the responsibility to lead.
While we might appreciate that this means we need to be mindful of the organizational culture and workplace environment we promote and nurture, it’s equally important that we recognize that this also means we need to step up and not simply settle for delivering on short-term targets.
Rather, we need to cast our eyes out further to assess whether we are doing our part to inspire others by the example we create through our leadership.