How to Be an Inspiring Leader (2023)


Surveys show that less than half of respondents say they agree or strongly agree that their leaders are inspiring. Even fewer feel that their leaders foster engagement or commitment and model the culture and values of the corporation. But real breakthroughs in performance come from employees who feel inspired by their leaders and their organizations. A new study to uncover what makes a leader inspirational reveals some surprising results: there are many different attributes, 33 in all, that inspire people, but you need only one of these to double your chance of being an inspirational leader; inspirational leaders have behavioral “spikes” that are relevant to how the company creates value; and leaders who both inspire people and generate results disrupt established behaviors in their organizations.

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(Video) How great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek

When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organizations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.

Our research shows that while anyone can become an inspiring leader (they’re made, not born), in most companies, there are far too few of them. In employer surveys that we conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we found that less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring or were unlocking motivation in employees. Even fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement or commitment and modeled the culture and values of the corporation.

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To understand what makes a leader inspirational, Bain & Company launched a new research program, starting with a survey of 2,000 people. What we found surprised us. It turns out that inspiration alone is not enough. Just as leaders who deliver only performance may do so at a cost that the organization is unwilling to bear, those who focus only on inspiration may find that they motivate the troops but are undermined by mediocre outcomes. Instead, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control. Here are some of our additional findings about how leaders both inspire, and get, great performance:

You only need one truly “inspiring” attribute

We askedsurvey recipients what inspired them about their colleagues. This gave us a list of 33 traits that help leaders in four areas: developing inner resources, connecting with others, setting the tone, and leading the team. Stress tolerance, self-regard, and optimism help leaders develop inner resources. Vitality, humility, and empathy help leaders connect. Openness, unselfishness, and responsibility help set the tone. Vision, focus, servanthood, and sponsorship help them lead.We found that people who inspire are incredibly diverse, which underscores the need to find inspirational leaders that are right for motivating your organization—there is no universal archetype.A corollary of this finding is that anyone can become an inspirational leader by focusing on his or her strengths.

Although wefound thatmany different attributes help leaders inspire people, we also found thatyou need only one of them to double your chances of being an inspirational leader. Specifically,ranking in the top 10% in your peer group on just one attribute nearly doubles your chance of being seen asinspirational. However, there is one trait that our respondents indicated matters more than any other: centeredness. This is a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present.

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Your key strength has to match how yourorganization creates value

Effective leadership isn’t generic. To achieve great performance, companies need a leadership profile that reflects their unique context, strategy, business model, and culture—the company’s unique behavioral signature. To win in the market, every company must emphasizethe specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those “spikes” mustbe relevant to the way that the company creates value. For example, an organization that makes its money out-marketing the competition isn’t likely to be inspired by a leader whose best talent is cost management. Spiky leaders achieve great performance by obsessing about the specific capabilities that underpin their company’s competitive advantage. They make sure those capabilities get an outsized, unfair share of resources and provide the key players the freedom they need to continue to excel.

You have tobehave differentlyif you want your employeesto doso

Even with a clear idea of your company’s winning behavioral signature, leaders need to develop new ways of operating.We found that leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviors to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.

Inspirational leaders recognize the need to pick their moments carefully to reinforce a performance culture in a way that can also be inspiring. These are real moments of leadership and truth. A few of our favorite, classic examples include:

  • When Paul O’Neill became CEO of Alcoa in 1987, he knew that he needed to focus the company on workplace safety. To show his commitment to the goal, he required that he be notified of all safety incidents within 24 hours. Safety improved dramatically, to the point where Alcoa’s worker injury rate fell to 5% of the US average.
  • When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO after a nearly eight-year hiatus, he realized that Starbucks’s unique customer-focused coffee experience was now in the back seat. In the front seat were automation and diversification, both implemented in pursuit of throughput and growth. Schultz took swift action to change the company’s direction; he even shut down 7,100 US stores for three hours on February 26th, 2008, to retrain the baristas in the art of making espresso. In this highly symbolic move, he left no doubt about his intentions—and about what he thought it would take to make Starbucks great again.
  • When Alan Mulally came to Ford in 2006 to help turn around the business, he took bold actions to change the way they company operated. In one highly visible moment, he applauded Mark Fields (who would eventually become his successor) for admitting to a failure in an executive meeting. That was pretty much unheard-of at Ford, and it set the tone for the open and honest communications required for a new culture at the company.

While these are only single actions by leaders who are famous for producing both performance and inspiration, they provide a window into what inspirational leadership looks like.

Drawing insight from Eastern philosophy, one of our clients once said, “If you want to change the way of being, you have to change the way of doing.” This struck us as profound in the moment and even more profound over time – and the sentiment matches what we learned in our research. Leaders can only change by doing things differently. The more often they behave in a new way, the sooner they become a new type of leader, an inspirational leader. We know that individual inspiration is the gateway to employee discretionary energy, and that, in turn, is critical to making the most of your scarcest resource – your human capital.

(Video) You Don't Need CHARISMA to Be an INSPIRING LEADER! | Simon Sinek MOTIVATION


How do I become an inspiration leader? ›

5 Keys: How to Become an Inspirational Leader
  1. Find your inspiration. Identify a role-model. ...
  2. Lead by example. This step sounds cliché, but is absolutely true. ...
  3. Nurture others. Inspirational leaders take care of others, from hiring, training, support, development, and career pathing. ...
  4. Empower your team. ...
  5. Have fun.
Nov 3, 2016

How do leaders inspire and motivate? ›

Lead by example.

One of the most effective ways to inspire people is to set a good example. People are always looking for role models to aspire to. With enough practice, that could be you. You can inspire others by embodying the qualities of a great leader.

What does it mean to be an inspirational leader? ›

Inspirational leadership, at its core, is about finding ways to enhance the potential of those you lead in a way that works for them, and inspiring others to push themselves, achieve more and reach that potential.

How do I become an inspirational leader at work? ›

Let's take a look at the seven most common traits among leaders effective in inspiring their team to do stellar work.
Sep 9, 2022

What makes a great leader? ›

A good leader should have integrity, self-awareness, courage, respect, empathy, and gratitude. They should be learning agile and flex their influence while communicating and delegating effectively. See how these key leadership qualities can be learned and improved at all levels of your organization.

How do I inspire my team? ›

The ultimate guide to motivating a team — and why it matters
  1. Share your vision and set clear goals.
  2. Communicate with your staff.
  3. Encourage teamwork.
  4. A healthy office environment.
  5. Give positive feedback and reward your team.
  6. Provide opportunities for development.
  7. Give employees the space they need to thrive.
Aug 26, 2022

Who is an example of inspirational leadership? ›

Mahatma Gandhi left his mark on the world in more ways than one. The leader of India's independence movement achieved remarkable feats through a form of non-violent civil disobedience that would inspire millions around the world, including many of the people on this list.

What should leaders stop doing? ›

10 Things Highly Successful Leaders Should Never Do
  • Lead Others Before You Lead Yourself. ...
  • Believe You Know Everything. ...
  • Neglect Outside Coaching. ...
  • Forget to Prioritize Spiritual, Mental and Physical Health. ...
  • Define Success Solely in Terms of Business and Work. ...
  • Avoid Showing Gratitude. ...
  • Fail to Support Others.

What are the 3 traits of great leaders? ›

Passion, teamwork, and social skills are three important qualities for leaders to possess in order to be effective. Learn how to bring these qualities into your workplace and put your best foot forward in both your personal and professional life.

What are the three strengths that one can use to inspire as a leader? ›

The 8 leadership strengths to learn:
  • Self-awareness.
  • Situational awareness.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Effective negotiation skills.
  • Conflict resolution skills.
  • Collaboration skills and intercultural sensitivity.
  • Ability to work with different personal styles and approaches.

How do you lead a team and keep it happy? ›

7 Ways To Keep Your Team Happy And Motivated
  1. A happy team has a supportive leader. ...
  2. A happy team has an inclusive culture. ...
  3. A happy team has opportunities for learning. ...
  4. A happy team has up-to-date tools that work well. ...
  5. A happy team has ongoing feedback and clear communication. ...
  6. A happy team knows mistakes are acceptable.

How do you motivate a lazy team? ›

10 Ways to Motivate Your Lazy Employees!
  1. Communication is the key. ...
  2. Set Objectives. ...
  3. Incentivise staff. ...
  4. Offer progression. ...
  5. Address any training issues. ...
  6. Give them more responsibility. ...
  7. Determine their interests. ...
  8. Assess your entire team.

What can you do to inspire others by your words? ›

  • Additional tips for motivating, inspiring, and persuading others at work:
  • Say the word 'you' more than 'I. ...
  • Use names. ...
  • Practice the three As: Appreciate, Acknowledge, Ask. ...
  • Use positive words and phrases.
  • Convince with cause-and-effect phrases.
Mar 26, 2013

Who is the most inspiring leader? ›

Inspirational Leaders – Mahatma Gandhi 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948. Called the 'Father of a Nation', Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an instrumental figure in the birth of an independent India.

How do effective leaders inspire others *? ›

Inspirational leaders set an example for collaboration; they pave the way for working together and building strong teams. Inspirational leaders recognize that no one can succeed alone, so they prioritize cooperation and model what it looks like to work together to accomplish mutual goals.

How do you influence inspire and impact as a leader? ›

How to Dramatically Increase Your Influence as a Leader
  1. Provide opportunities for wins. ...
  2. Believe in your people. ...
  3. Serve others before yourself. ...
  4. Give trust so you can earn trust. ...
  5. Think bigger for others—even bigger than they think of themselves. ...
  6. Truly connect with people. ...
  7. Invest in the success of others.

How leaders can inspire action? ›

By knowing and effectively communicating their why, leaders can inspire action. And they ultimately follow the laws of attraction. Because when you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who also believe.


1. Great leadership starts with self-leadership | Lars Sudmann | TEDxUCLouvain
(TEDx Talks)
2. How to be an Inspirational Leader
(Colin Boyd)
3. How to Become an Inspiring Leader | Srikumar Rao
(Mindvalley )
4. Start with why -- how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound
(TEDx Talks)
5. Be a Leader | Motivational Talks With Steve Harvey
(The Official Steve Harvey)
6. How Does A Leader Inspire Others?
(3 Key Elements)
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