THE BLOG

Leadership is 10% Perspiration, 90% Inspiration

10/31/2013 05:35 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

OK, maybe the exact ratio isn't 10-90, but the point is that one of the most important traits of an effective leader is the ability to inspire others.

By this I don't mean that you have to rah-rah like Oprah or perform stunt manoeuvres like Sir Richard Branson or even float in zero gravity like Chris Hadfield. In fact, you don't even have to be an outgoing extrovert. Many inspiring leaders are quietly introverted yet respected and effective. Think Mahatma Gandhi or Warren Buffett.

If you aren't as inspiring a leader as you'd like to be, can you become more inspiring? Absolutely. There are a number of capabilities that inspirational leaders have mastered. The more proficient you become with these, the more inspiring you can be.

Create a clear, compelling vision

To inspire others we must be inspired ourselves, therefore inspiring leaders create visions that first, excite them and second, motivate others. They develop a compelling vision of where they want to go and then describe this future to others in a way that engages their focus, energy and skills to realize this vision.

Motivate with stretch goals

Inspiring leaders are able to push themselves and others beyond their comfort zones. They challenge themselves and their staff to improve by using goals targeted to meaningful motivators such as strengthening performance or quality.

Develop other leaders

Effective leaders are good at developing other people into effective leaders. This role is particularly important because it contributes long-term value to an organization: high-performing individuals and a pipeline of new leaders. Developing other leaders also facilitates successful delegation and avoids the potentially debilitating "lonely at the top" syndrome.

Work collaboratively

As more organizations rely on global collaborative networks to grow, the ability to work collaboratively is an increasingly valuable leadership trait. This requires building productive relationships. To do so, inspiring leaders understand and address the needs, expectations and concerns of collaborative allies.

Champion creativity

Employees are motivated by leaders who promote an innovative environment. Leaders who challenge the status quo, encourage new ways of addressing problems and opportunities and reward creativity are compensated with employee effort and commitment.

Listen and communicate

Inspiring leaders are also inspiring communicators. They create opportunities for discussion. And they keep people informed about goals, expectations and results by communicating frequently and thoroughly. They are also enthusiastic storytellers. Knowing that people are inspired, not by facts and stats, but by interesting stories, they translate challenges and ideas into vivid examples that ignite the imagination.

Be an authentic role model

Aware that their actions influence others, inspiring leaders set an example. They model honest and ethical behaviour. They consistently follow the direction they set. They do what they say they're going to do. And they exemplify the standards and behaviours they expect from others.

When I say that leadership is 10 per cent perspiration and 90 per cent inspiration, please don't get me wrong. Inspiring leaders also tend to be the hardest workers. Consistently performing all of these functions well is tough work, although ultimately well worth it. As former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles once pointed out, "leadership is the key to 99 per cent of all successful efforts."

What's your experience? I'd be interested to hear what you or the leaders you work with do to inspire the people in your organization.