Australian research released last week revealed the biggest attribute desired by employees in a leader. It isn’t industry know-how or a lot of experience, and neither is it someone who’s likeable or funny. Nope, 52 per cent of the 3000 respondents said they want their boss to be inspirational.
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Conducted by recruitment firm Randstad, the results showed a gap between the type of leader employees want and the type of leader they have today. And when asked to rate their boss’s ability to inspire, over one third of people gave their leader a thumbs-down.
That unique way of being is characterised by one word: why. In a business sense, when employees understand why they do what they do, they’re more likely to be inspired. And the ‘why’ can’t be about the attainment of profit. It needs to be about the ultimate purpose for why a business exists. It’s this purpose that employees must clearly comprehend in order to be inspired.
“The goal is not just to hire people,” he says. “It’s to hire people who believe what you believe. If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”
Neil Paulsen is a senior management lecturer at the University of Queensland. One of the modules he teaches is ‘inspirational leadership’. I asked him what it takes to achieve that status.
“A person cannot inspire others unless they are clear about who they are, what they value, and what they are trying to achieve in the world,” he said. “This type of leadership requires courage, tolerance, authenticity, humility, and a significant degree of self-awareness.”
Self-awareness also came up in an academic paper published this year in The Academy of Management Perspectives. Researchers from Arizona State University investigated the links between inspirational leadership and neuroscience, and they wrote that self-awareness (along with mood control and social skills) is weaker in leaders that are uninspiring.
The researchers identified the frontal part of the brain as the section most closely associated with ‘visionary behaviour’, ‘expression of emotions’, and ‘effective interpersonal communication’, all of which are attributes of an inspirational leader. The growing field of neuroplasticity indicates this is a malleable part of the brain that can be strengthened. In other words, inspirational leadership – and the charisma that goes along with it – is something that can be developed.
The question becomes: how do we develop it? Guidance can be obtained from a study conducted by the UK government in conjunction with the Chartered Management Institute. It was a project initiated after British bureaucrats recognised that inspirational leadership was a major driver of innovative businesses.
The outcome of their work was a list of six “essential elements of inspirational leadership”. Inspirational leaders apparently do the following:
- Genuinely care about their people
- Involve everybody
- Show lots of appreciation
- Ensure work is fun
- Show real trust
- Listen a lot
Failing that, consider these simple words from John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”