How to be an inspirational leader

Inspired employees can be far more productive. Here’s how to lift your team up
by Sophie Huskisson


Marissa Levin, founder and CEO of Successful Culture, differentiates the terms ‘inspire’ and ‘motivate’ in a blog post for Inc: the former comes from within, pulling you “towards something that stirs your heart, mind, or spirit”; the latter is an “external force” that “pushes you to accomplish a task”.

Here are some tips on how to be an inspirational leader.

Have a clear vision

Daniel Goleman, former science journalist and author of a book about emotional intelligence, says in a blog for LinkedIn that an inspiring leader should focus on the success of the organisation, not their accomplishments. He writes: “An inspirational leader needs to demonstrate both a clear understanding of the team or organisation and its mission and have a compelling message about how to further that mission, and why it’s important.”

Susan M Heathfield, management and organisation consultant, writing for The Balance Careers, says: “The inspirational leader feels passionate about the vision and mission of the organisation. They are also able to share that passion in a way that enables others to feel passionate, too.”

An inspirational leader should enable others to feel their work has a purpose beyond the tasks they perform every day. Employees will be inspired if they feel like they are working towards something that matters. “Communicating the big picture will help reinforce the reason your organisation exists,” she writes.

Have people join you

According to Goleman, the ability to inspire is the ability to bring out the best in people and guide them to join you in getting the job done. A leader should encourage this by example. “Showing your team that you are living what you want them to live will go a long way toward convincing them to join you,” he says.

Working with your employees, as opposed to working above them, is crucial, Heathfield writes. Help staff feel included, not just by listening to them, but also by involving them in decisions, such that they feel “intimately connected to the actions and processes that are leading to the accomplishment of the goals or the final decision”.

“No one is ever 100% supportive of a direction they had no part in formulating. People need to see their ideas incorporated­ or understand why they were not,” writes Heathfield.  

Care about people

Chris Horlick, director at health insurer AXA PPP, writes in a post for the British Chambers of Commerce that a good leader should encourage their employees “to look after their health and wellbeing in and out of work”. For example, you could encourage your employees to go for a walk at lunchtime or offer them some ways to switch off after work, such as not having to respond to work emails after a certain time.

Show that you understand the emotional and social needs of your employees. Horlick explains: “Creating a positive and supportive environment where your people can grow and develop will go a long way to making them feel valued and engaged, so your people will be much more likely to work hard for you and stick around through the ups and downs experienced by growing businesses.”

Think outside the box

Goleman says that if a leader sees the need for a change in how things have always been done in their field, they should be able to take the risk to make those changes happen. They should be driven by the success of the bigger picture and willing to take risks for the cause.

Bain & Company’s recent research programme, which surveys 2,000 people on their experiences with leaders, was launched to help understand exactly what makes an inspirational leader. It finds that inspiring leaders are those who capitalise on their “unique combination of strengths”, writes Eric Garton, partner at Bain & Company’s Chicago office, in a blog for Harvard Business Review. “People who inspire are incredibly diverse, there is no universal archetype."

Garton maintains that anyone can be an inspirational leader by applying their strengths to the role. All you need to do is find what inspires you and use it to inspire other people.

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Published: 09 Aug 2019
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • Training and competence
  • soft skills
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  • leadership
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