Whether a person is an executive or an entrepreneur, experts agree that the most effective leaders are inspirational. VIM Executive Coaching has long recognized the value of being an inspiring leader, but we have consistently cautioned against the entrepreneur who awakens one morning and says, “From now on, I will be inspiring!”
Oh, we all wish it were that easy! As it turns out, being an inspiring entrepreneur or executive takes both personal work and introspection. This point was recently reinforced by a very fine article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review (April 25, 2017) entitled: “How to Be an Inspiring Leader.” The piece by author Eric Garton, makes the point at the outset that “inspired employees are themselves far more productive.” What is interesting is that Garten concedes that inspiring leaders are made, not born. We would wholeheartedly agree.
The article calls up a research study of 2,000 people (a whopping sample) that was conducted by Bain & Company. They found out that “inspiration” is fine, but it doesn’t make for an inspirational leader. For example, an entrepreneur could bring in the world’s most inspirational keynote speaker to present to their sales team. The sales team could embrace “inspiration” to the fullest, but at the end of the day fail to motivate anyone to buy.
As the research revealed, it takes much more than being inspired. The survey revealed up to 33 traits that help leaders in four key areas: “developing inner resources, connecting with others, setting the tone and leading the team.” Probing deeper it was found (among other factors) that inner resources are enhanced by stress tolerance and self-regard; connecting with others by humility and empathy; openness and unselfishness help to set the tone and vision and servanthood help entrepreneurs and executives to better lead.
The facts are incredibly in-line with the principles we teach at VIM Executive Coaching. It is through practices such as mindfulness meditation and several sessions on self-evaluation that we can bring the traits of inspiration to the very fabric of entrepreneurial and executive leadership.
If we are truly mindful and employ techniques that make us more introspective and responsive, the important traits every inspiring leader should embrace can bring us closer to the ideal. It is important to state that being an inspirational leader does not mean we have to all conform to a given mold. An introvert as well as an extrovert can be inspirational and of course, inspiration is not defined by age, gender, orientation, race or any other factor.
What is key to inspiration are traits like being tolerant and unbiased in our points of view, for we cannot inspire a person or a group we if start off by having a preconceived set of “requirements” of one group over another. Inspiration must call for consistency. It is impossible to inspire without having humility and empathy toward others. Who would we be if we could not view our own frailties or have a sense of compassion toward others? If we are closed to others and what they are trying to say to us or if we are selfish in sticking to an arbitrary viewpoint, how effective would we be in our thinking? For entrepreneurs especially, being stuck in one position or one viewpoint can be very dangerous.
Finally, are we good servants? As it turns out, the concept of servant leadership is very important to nurturing inspiration in an entrepreneurial or corporate environment. Servant leadership is a term that has lately come into vogue, however it is an ancient “Eastern” concept that has been recently discovered in the Western workplace. The practice seems to run counter to the image of the hard driving entrepreneur laser focused on a mission. In fact, it is quite compatible. If the entrepreneur is truly committed to surrounding him or herself with the brightest and the best, then those employees must be nurtured, respected and inspired.
When the leader conveys the message that she or he is committed to serving each employee and helping them to grow and prosper, inspiration to succeed and contribute follow.
We can learn these skills, we needn’t be born with them. All we need is the courage – and gratitude, to set ourselves on the journey.