I am fascinated by what it takes to be an extraordinary leader–an inspirational leader. I am fascinated by WHY some leaders seem to magically make a huge impact on the world while others do not – Steve Jobs being one case in point, as he changed forever the lives of people and the world with his vision. Let us ponder the question, “Are we all born leaders”? In a certain way I believe we are. We are ultimately leaders of our own lives and destinies. We become leaders of our families and communities, and many take on leadership positions in business. However, holding a leadership title does not guarantee that we have what it takes to inspire others and make a lasting positive impact. I recently came across a quote that speaks to this: “Leaders are not born. They are made. Who makes them? They make themselves.” ~ Peter Castenbaum, Corporate Mystic.
To me the foundation of inspiring others is to know WHY we do what we do. It is to have a dream, a vision that is bigger than us – often referred to as higher purpose. That is the WHY. The dream needs to be communicated through our belief that great value is being created and offered to the collective whole. A perfect example of this is Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech? Simon Sinek speaks to this eloquently in his TED talk “How great leaders inspire action.”
A recent study done by the Center for Creative Leadership called The Challenges Leaders Face Around the World: More Similar than Different (see here) reveals that inspiring others is one of the six top challenges leaders struggle with. These findings support the theory that inspiring others is not an innate gift for most leaders, but needs to be learned and honed like any other leadership skill.
As a young entrepreneur and business leader in Iceland, I had to learn my leadership skills—including how to inspire others—while on the job. I found that leadership is a practice cultivated through a continuous process and intention. We need to refine our skills and aim for self-mastery while at the same time learning to let go of the need for perfection. One of the great inspirations on my leadership journey was Mahatma Gandhi. His famous quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” inspired me to make a commitment to myself to become a life-long learner of self-leadership that informs me when leading others. We have to start with ourselves first. Thus I have learned through experimentation and cultivation of not only the traditional, tangible outer skills but also more importantly, the inner skills of empathy, acceptance, and self-awareness that transforms us into the very change and inspiration we want to ignite in others.
I believe that the intangible inspiring of others is an inner skill that doesn’t receive the same focus in leadership development as the more easily measured outer abilities; might this explain why there are so many leaders worldwide who find it challenging to be successful influencers? Following are 9 keys that I have used successfully on my own journey to inspiring others:
The 9 Keys to Abundant Inspiration
1. Know the WHY
Be clear on the beliefs that inform your vision — the cause that gives others the feeling of meaning as they join a collective process. This is the higher purpose.
2. Align the Values
Make sure the values of your organization are aligned with your highest personal values. Then surround yourself with people of like-minded beliefs and values.
3. Walk Your Talk
Don’t expect others to perform actions that you are not modeling yourself. Behavior is everything.
4. Be Fully Human
Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability shared honestly is power. Use storytelling to show your humanity, revealing both your failures and successes.
5. Be Present
Cultivate your self-awareness and be awake to the present moment – the NOW. Practice deep listening more than talking. There is nothing more powerful than witnessing a leader who stands grounded in his/her quiet strength.
6. Build Trust
Showcase unwavering integrity and accountability. Always do the right thing regardless of cost. Give people autonomy and support their success.
7. Acknowledge Others and Their Gifts
Show appreciation and celebrate the contributions made by your people and others.
8. Exude Energy, Love, and Caring
Fill yourself with positive energy so you can shower it on your people and all those you meet. They will feel it and appreciate it, and they will want more, from seeing in you the inspiration you want to ignite in them.
9. Build Relationships
Cultivate heart-centered communication and connection with others.
As you start consciously cultivating your own inspirational skills, think of the leaders who are an inspiration and why they inspire you. What are the qualities, principles, beliefs of those leaders that speak to your heart, align with your innermost being, and prompt you to take action? The dreams and insights of history’s extraordinary leaders continue to live on long after they are gone — as inspiration. Now join that group as you make a positive mark on the world.