Inspirational leadership involves aligning values with initiatives to create enthusiasm and a passion to act. Leaders who are able to do this successfully “light a fire” within others, resulting in higher performance and more sustained effort.
Inspired teams are more likely to meet goals and demonstrate high levels of engagement with their work. This leads to lower instances of absenteeism, improved overall quality of work, and increased productivity.
Despite the many benefits of inspirational leadership, some leaders struggle to inspire their teams. How can leaders inspire and engage those around them? We’ve identified five strategies.
1: Get to Understand the Values of Your Team Members
Because inspiring team members requires that leaders make an appeal to others’ values, beliefs, or emotions, becoming an inspirational leader requires an understanding of each.
This means finding out what motivates them to get up in the morning and makes them truly excited for the day ahead. Knowing what team members enjoy and value about their work helps leaders better understand how to get the most out of them; it also helps to know how their job fits in with other aspects of their life. Employees with spouses and children, for instance, might have a different conception of work/life balance than those without them. Managing a diverse team with fairness and equity requires leaders to respect those expectations.
Having some basic information about an employee’s interests outside of work can also be helpful for knowing how to best inspire them. What does an employee’s hobbies and interests say about them and their values? For example, does the employee participate in a volunteer organization? If so, what kind of organization is it? Knowing the answers to these questions can tell a leader a lot about their team members. Additionally, showing interest in an employee’s hobbies can be a means of demonstrating care, which can have an inspirational effect in and of itself.
2: Start By Answering “Why?”
Simon Sinek, a well-known motivational speaker and author of New York Times bestselling books such as Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, talks at length about answering the question of “why” in his TED talks about inspiring others to action.
As he says in his TED talk:
“Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent… But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by ‘why’ I don’t mean ‘to make a profit.’ That’s a result. It’s always a result. By ‘why,’ I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”
One aspect that separates truly inspirational leaders from their peers is the ability to understand and explain the “why” of their organization to others. Leaders start with answering “why” because, once their team understands that, they know they aren’t just driving profits so others can make money; they’re making a difference in their industry, community, or world at large.
3: Create a Sense of Purpose
Answering the “why” of the organization is one way to inspire others. However, that isn’t always enough.
Leaders must also find ways to create a sense of purpose for their team. This begins with a bit of self-reflection. Have the organization’s goals been clearly and explicitly communicated to the team? Do employees understand how they make a difference in the “big picture?” Do they have a sense of pride and ownership in what they’re doing?
It’s difficult to create purpose if employees feel alienated from one another and from the organization. An inspirational leader shows them how their work makes a difference, both to their team and the company as a whole. Empowering employees to innovate and improve themselves strengthens their connection to the organization and helps them align their goals with the rest of their team.
Leaders can promote this empowerment by providing realistic challenges to motivate achievement and championing collaboration to bolster a sense of community. When employees feel like they have the tools for success and understand what they’re working to achieve together, they become more productive and engaged.
4: Build Trust with Employees
Building trust is a major requirement for inspirational leadership. If employees don’t trust their leader, it is nearly impossible for that leader to effectively inspire a team.
In order to build trust, leaders need to understand and exercise the four basic elements of it: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. These elements can be mastered by practicing honest communication, keeping promises, demonstrating empathy and discretion, and looking for shared goals.
- Learning to Recognize Trust Issues. Leaders need to be able to identify when trust on a team is lacking so they can address these issues. Some signs of trust issues include gossip about team members, lack of communication, and blame-shifting.
- Creating Collaborative Group Goals. Establishing shared goals between team members can help encourage collaboration and cooperation among a team—especially when wins are celebrated as a group.
By building trust between themselves and team members, leaders can make it easier to inspire their teams to take action later on.
5: Become a Storyteller
One of the key traits of inspirational leaders noted by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is that “inspirational leaders were more adept at making emotional connections with their subordinates.”
Part of being able to make an emotional connection is being an effective storyteller—which means being able to take ideas and put them into a context that allows the listener to understand them.
One Inc.com article highlights a few effective strategies for using storytelling in a business setting—such as establishing time, place, people, events, surprise, relevance, and emotion in a small story. Why a small story? Because, as the article notes, small stories are “the anecdotes concerning real-life experiences that people tell every day in conversations.” These are the kind of stories people hear and tell one another all the time, so they’re easy to understand for most employees.
In the article, author Shawn Callahan states, “Told consistently over time, small stories will help employees understand the concrete actions needed to get a job done, how to bring a value to life, and how to implement a strategy.” By using small stories effectively, leaders can communicate their vision to their employees in a way that the employee can understand and even internalize. This, in turn, helps inspire the employee to help the leader fulfill their vision.
Effective inspirational leaders utilize a variety of strategies to get the most out of their teams, but they share a foundation of active communication and engagement. Getting to know team members as individuals and showing them how they contribute to the organization’s success can instill their work with a strong sense of purpose. By using easy-to-understand stories to communicate the company’s vision, leaders also build the trust that helps their teams achieve their goals.
Inspirational leadership can help teams become more engaged and productive, improving their overall value to an organization. Effective leaders must learn how to inspire their teams by showing they understand each member’s values and utilizing storytelling techniques to show how their efforts contribute to the team’s success. As employees come to understand why their role is vital to the company’s mission, they learn to trust one another and collaborate to achieve their goals.