How Great Leaders Inspire

Leaders Inspire

Vince Lombardi famously said that “Leaders are made, they are not born.” Considered by many to be the greatest coach in NFL history, the Pro Football Hall of Famer believed that with hard work and dedication anyone can become a leader.

The real question is, does every person have the makings of a great (or even good) leader? From Abraham Lincoln and George Washington to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bill Gates, true leaders have an ability to inspire that goes beyond the mere ability to entice followers.

As a financial literacy educator, one of my primary goals is to inspire young adults to take control of their personal finances. I’ve authored numerous books on money management and received the 2015 Financial Educator of the Year award. Throughout my experience as a CPA, in the publishing industry and as an entrepreneur, I have learned these three tenets of inspiring leadership.

  1. Encourage Innovation

Successful business leaders work on their business instead of in their business and so aren’t usually in the trenches. While Steve Jobs had a hand in Apple’s success, he wasn’t the one physically building new products and originating every idea. When Jobs returned to the company following a 12-year hiatus, he encouraged employees to “innovate” their way out of potential bankruptcy by doing something no one else had done. He asked R&D and creatives to dream their way to new technology that could improve their lives. Today, Apple is worth $750 billion. In this video for the bestselling Steve Jobs biography, author Walter Isaacson discusses the late leader’s drive for innovation.

  1. Forge an Emotional Connection

One of the key indicators of a positive relationship is a feeling of connection. This applies not only to personal relationships, but also to the dynamic of leader and audience. Whether you are introducing new consumer care standards to employees or delivering a speech about a new industry product to your peers, it’s crucial to show that you understand their needs.

Techniques successful leaders use to increase emotional connection include storytelling, empathy, honesty and humility. Basically, it’s time to get a little personal. Notice how Elon Musk connects with employees in this excerpt of a 2017 letter written to address working conditions at his Tesla plants:

“The workplace issue that comes before any other is safety. If you do not have your health, then nothing else matters. Simply due to size and bad luck, there will always be some injuries in a company with over 30,000 employees, but our goal is simple: to have as close to zero injuries as possible and be the safest factory in the auto industry by far. The Tesla executive team and I are absolutely committed to this goal.

That is why I was particularly troubled by the safety claim in last week’s blog post, which said: ‘A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries. I hear the ergonomics are even more severe in other areas of the factory.’

Obviously, this cannot be true: if three quarters of his team suddenly went on medical leave, we would not be able to operate that part of the factory… After looking into this claim, not only was it untrue for this individual’s team, it was untrue for any of the hundreds of teams in the factory.”

Good leadership is about finding the right balance of emotion and professionalism. Musk’s dismay clearly shows in the letter; however, he focuses on dispelling the claims to put his employees’ minds at ease.

  • Know Your Purpose

What’s your purpose? Author Simon Sinek posed this question to business leaders in a TED Talk on the “Golden Circle” concept, which purports that most people in charge know what their company does and how they do it, but not why. When you understand your company’s true motivation—whether it’s to make a computer system friendlier or speed up the HR process without losing employee confidence—you can better lead employees in that direction. In this video clip, the need for purpose is explained by Sinek.

Certainly, these three ideas aren’t the sole building blocks of good leadership. Successful leaders embody dozens of qualities, from drive and determination to optimism, extroversion and a willingness to shake things up. Leaders are agents of change. No matter what awards or accolades you’ve received, the greatest achievement of leadership is knowing that you’ve inspired others. For more information on mentoring or entrepreneurial coaching, contact my team today.

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