Five things inspirational leaders do

Set up “quivering antennae” and focus on employee engagement to keep staff motivated, says Kevin Murray

HAVING interviewed dozens of the UK’s top leaders on what it means to be inspiring, and backed it up with research on 4,000 workers, I believe there are five things the most inspiring leaders do.

Inspirational leaders are transparently passionate, and possess a visible moral compass. Authenticity is crucial. Followers will not commit if they do not trust you or believe that you have integrity. So, even if you are a highly introverted individual, it’s vital that you learn to speak with more passion – talk about your values, stand up more often and outline your beliefs. The ability to consistently display passion and commitment is the single most important behaviour of effective leaders.

Too often, leaders use financial goals to motivate people, but employees say they don’t get out of bed in the morning to achieve financial objectives. They want to be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference to society and the world. The best executives focus on creating shared values. When leaders speak about a purpose that creates shared values, it is far more motivating than money, especially when coupled with a set of values that your employees know to be true. In this world of radical transparency, values have assumed a far greater importance. They define how people in an organisation behave in pursuit of their objectives, and these actions define a business to the outside world.

The best leaders I spoke to were addicted to progress, with a crystal-clear intent. They knew precisely where they wanted to be in a given timescale, even if they did not know exactly how to get there. They were never satisfied with the status quo, and their restlessness was a tangible force. Every question they asked had to do with how people were progressing to their goals, and they kept those goals under constant review, painting a vivid picture of success.

Leaders have to live outside of their organisations, constantly bringing in stories of success and failure to keep everyone fixed on what needs to improve. Successful leaders know that relationships are the engines of success. They set up “quivering antennae”, as one executive described it to me – a radar system that keeps you in touch with the outside world.

One effective strategy is to bring customers into the building to talk to people within the organisation. Leaders tell me that such sessions were often far more inspiring than talks by the managers.

Increasing numbers of organisations are now measuring levels of employee engagement, and using this as a strategic tool to find ways to keep people motivated and committed to the cause. Companies with high levels of engagement outperform their competitors by some margin.

Engagement is achieved through conversations – structured, potent conversations that allow employees to fully understand the big objectives, and work out with their leaders what they have to do to achieve them. Too often, these discussions are neglected, and middle managers are neither trained for nor measured on their ability to hold these critical conversations.

Kevin Murray specialises in strategic communications, reputation management and leadership communications coaching. His latest book is Communicate to Inspire: A Guide for Leaders (Kogan Page).

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