What It Takes to Be an Inspiring Leader

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From teachers to coaches to business managers, you notice someone who’s a truly inspirational leader.

An inspirational leader gets peak performance from people … not because those people have to follow, but because they want to.

  • Truly inspirational people have a passion for why they’re doing something … not just what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.

After a year and a half of playing the violin, my daughter was going through the unenthused motions of learning a   new instrument. Enter seventh grade … and the inspirational Mr. M…. Suddenly, she started coming home with new music and practicing without being asked. She demonstrated how Mr. M waved his arms wildly (and enthusiastically) in class and said he just wants all his students to “make beautiful music.”

What a simple idea…. Those budding musicians aren’t there to play instruments, to learn notes, to practice, and to entertain people. They’re there to “make beautiful music.”  Mr. M is passionate about music … and wants his students to share this passion.

In a TED talk, Simon Sinek explains this characteristic from a business perspective. “Every organization knows what they do. Some know how they do it. Very few know why they do it.” Those few inspired organizations and leaders … act based on why.”

“Sometimes leaders have to help their staff connect the dots by explaining this why to all. Communicating the big picture regularly will help reinforce the reason your organization exists,” says Susan M. Heathfield for about.com.

  • Secondly, inspirational people listen to those around them. By allowing employees to make suggestions and share thoughts or feedback, your employees are more likely to support the direction in which you’re headed. (If Mr. M lets his students pick some of the “beautiful music” they want to play, they’re more likely to be excited.) 


  • Thirdly, by allowing people to make decisions, especially in areas where it affects their department, you boost motivation. You show employees that you recognize and value their insight. Compromising on a big decision may also be necessary in some cases, and that compromise may be just the thing to get everyone on board. 


  • An inspirational leader needs to be forgiving. A leader’s job isn’t to prevent employees from making any mistakes. These wrong turns are learning experiences and will help them solve problems down the road. The trick is to find the balance between allowing mistakes and protecting your company from losing money. Zhenya Rozinskiy, business technology leader, suggests finding this balance by differentiating between projects or parts of projects that are “absolutely critical and those where you can afford some setbacks.”


  • Trust is the final key ingredient for an inspirational leader. Employees must believe that you’ll keep your word, that you’ve got their back, and that you stand for something they too can believe in. You set the standard with your actions. Sales and personal success trainer Brian Tracy suggests you set your own high standards … that you lead by example, “as though someone were following you around, secretly taking notes and photographs of your daily actions for others to see and act on.”

Hard work is a choice.  By developing passion, loyalty, and trust in people, a truly inspirational leader can push people to higher achievement — can lift and inspire people to be their best.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.