Over the last twelve months, I have written several posts in the One Word series. These are words leaders think about often. Some of the featured words have included Momentum, Team, Hope, Vision and Diversity. Today, the next installment… one thing every leader must ultimately learn to do, or give the baton to someone else to do – INSPIRE others to action.
What does it mean to inspire others? As with many words, there are several denotations. And from a leader’s point-of-view, all are worth pursuing.
INSPIRE: To make someone want to do something; to cause something to happen; to fill someone with positive feelings; from the original Latin, to inspire is to breathe into someone (confidence, motivation, positive emotions, etc.)
This is what all leaders are trying to do. We are trying to cause something to happen (the vision). We are trying to fill people with the confidence to join us on our journey to a preferred future. We are trying to call out the best in people. We want to fill them with confidence and motivation.
Yes, but how? The answer to this question is what we devote our lives to as leaders. In its most simple form, we must articulate a compelling future and be perceived to be a leader people are willing to follow. But, even as I write this, I know that is too simplistic.
To inspire is situational and highly dependent on the magnitude of the ask and the individuals involved. To convince pre-school children to follow you is much different than convincing your peers to do the same. However, it may be helpful to think about what has the potential to inspire…
A grand vision. Is your picture of the future big enough to inspire? Can you paint a vivid picture for your would-be followers? Is the picture clear enough for people to see themselves in your preferred future? Make it grand! Victor Hugo said, "Small dreams stir no mans soul." He was correct. Why not pursue a grand vision? Why would you want anything less?
A compelling story. Every good story involves the pursuit of something. Then, conflict enters the story and consequences become apparent. Great stories also allow people to see themselves in the story. How can these elements help you craft a narrative worthy of followship? When you tell your story of a preferred future, do people want to join you on your quest? If not, you’ve failed to make it personal or the consequences are not seen as relevant.
A leader we trust. If you want to inspire, you must first engender trust. Are you a leader people want to follow? If not, trust may be the underlying issue. More about trust in a future post. For now, know it will be virtually impossible to cause others to act, if you are not trusted. People generally don’t follow leaders who they do not trust.
A problem worth attacking. Does the injustice or magnitude of the issue demand something be done about it in our generation? Are the consequences of inaction crystal clear? Think about big problems: poverty, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, human trafficking. Why are movements flourishing around these issues? The men and women leading the attack have convinced the masses that these problems must be addressed.
An example to follow. When you see someone clearly exhibit drive, determination, sacrifice, passion, or excellence, it can have the power to change your perspective and inspire! When I heard about Bob Wieland completing the New York Marathon… with no legs, I was inspired. It only took him 98 hours![GLS_Shield]
What inspires you?