How Inspirational Leaders Motivate Others to Action: 7 Traits
Updated: Jan 24
HOW INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS MOTIVATE DESPITE PERSONALITY, AGE, OR GENETIC DIFFERENCES
The whole concept of “inspirational leadership” is pretty fertile ground for stereotypes.
The idea of the hard-charging field general. The strong and stoic CEO. The steamrolling visionary or the unstoppable force of creative and inventive energy. Those stereotypes exist because we’ve seen them, we’ve heard about them—they get the press, make the waves, inspire the biopics and primetime news specials.
That’s why it’s easy to think, “Aren’t most inspirational leaders charismatic, bombastic, energetic, and forceful in their approach to motivating teams?” Is that really what it takes to win in the realm of leadership?
And when we focus on those outward indicators of apparent leadership success, other questions come up, too. Does your age matter? What about those who were “born” with the right “leadership genetics”?
And how about personality? Many believe you have to be an extroverted, outgoing person to be an effective leader. Is that true? Or can a more low-key, introverted person lead just as effectively?
Spoiler alert: yes, they most definitely can.
Despite what others may have you believe, effective, inspirational leadership has less to do with personality, age, or genetics than with skills you can learn, work on and grow into. In fact, research supports that leadership is more about exhibiting certain inspirational traits rather than a having a certain type of personality. With that said, there are some traits, like consistent negativity, acting like a dictator or just plain being a jerk, that are not going to cut it with a team looking to succeed.
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7 EXCEPTIONAL TRAITS OF INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE ACTION: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE OF LEADERSHIP MOTIVATION LEARN FROM THESE 6 INSPIRATIONAL FEMALE LEADERS HOW DO I ENHANCE MY LEADERSHIP TO BETTER INSPIRE AND MOTIVATE MY TEAM?
7 EXCEPTIONAL TRAITS OF INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS
So, what does an inspirational leader look like? Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They are increasingly both female and male. They might as easily wear a three-piece suit or a sweatsuit to work. They may work in the office or remotely. They may be part of the Millennial or Boomer generations. Do these different characteristics really matter? And won’t my team follow me simply because I have a leadership role and title?The short answer. Not really... The one-size-fits-all mold of leadership has been shattered in recent years, and we need to keep that progress headed in the right direction. Ignore the naysayers and blaze a new trail. We don’t need to go back to the old school “motivation” of my-way-or-the-highway. That simply won’t work with people in the workforce today. Let’s take a look at the seven most common traits among leaders effective in inspiring their team to do stellar work.
1. AUTHENTIC & TRUSTWORTHY
These go together like peanut butter and jelly... The best managers lead by example. They are vulnerable with their teams when needed. They won’t BS you. Instead, they’ll routinely take the blame and give away the fame for their responsible team members. Who wouldn’t follow a leader like that to the ends of the earth? Resolve to be a leader who strives for authenticity. Yes, it requires plenty of vulnerability and emotional intelligence, but it’s the most effective way to genuinely build trust with your team.
2. EXUDES POSITIVE ENERGY
From the moment we wake to the instant our head hits the pillow at night, we are reminded of life’s continual challenges. It can be tough to remain positive about our world. But, as trite as it might seem, what we think about affects our mood and behaviors, and ultimately those of our team. If we continue to dwell on negative thoughts, our lives will follow suit. Top leaders know they have control over their mood and the energy they give off. They understand that this energy will affect others, for good or bad. Likewise, effective leaders know that keeping their own thoughts positive allows them to encourage their team when they get focused too much on what is frustrating and challenging.
3. LEADS WITH DEEP LISTENING
It’s hard to put listening to others ahead of our desire to get our own ideas across. And it’s not just the initial discipline to stop ourselves from talking as a priority over listening. To get your mind to “want” to ask questions more than speak is something that takes time to develop...through the discipline phase and into the habit phase. Plus, it is hard to do so even if you have developed this habit when the rest of your team does the opposite, constantly interrupting each other. Lead by example, and over time, you will find others will start to follow that lead.
4. SELF-AWARE & OTHERS-AWARE
The narcissistic leader is usually oblivious to her own shortcomings or those around her, but we don’t have to be a full-blown narcissist to fall down on this one. We all have shades of narcissistic tendencies—that’s just human. But it means we’re often less aware of how we are perceived by others or unaware of how others are feeling. Top-notch leaders know they don’t have it all together, and they don’t lord their pride over others they perceive as beneath themselves. It takes an objective view both of ourselves and others to act on that awareness, either to tone ourselves down or to have a polite but firm conversation with someone else about a necessary change of behavior, all while validating their strengths and acknowledging their emotions.
5. RECHARGES EMOTIONAL BATTERIES REGULARLY
You can’t give others what they need if you’re running on empty. Great leaders don’t allow themselves to get too drained, and when they start to feel stretched beyond capacity, they take time off to rest, decompress, and recharge. By contrast, others tend to push themselves and their teams too hard for too long. It isn’t that we don’t encounter times of intense pressure from work, times when we just need to push through, but we all need time to rejuvenate our weary mind, body, and soul. If we don’t take the time for some R&R and allow ourselves to get totally burned out, how can we possibly be useful to our team long term? Great leaders recognize the dangers of burnout—both in themselves and in others—and make it a point to take a break when it’s required.
Defined as “a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present,” centeredness plays a large role in inspiring and motivating your team. How often do leaders you know remain calm, not just externally but internally too, when things are truly going off the rails? It’s tough to find such a state of mindfulness that difficult times don’t phase us. That comes with practice and time, and we aren’t going to be perfect 100% of the time. But to remain emotionally present enough to listen deeply and still empathize with others during a crisis can give your team a strong sense of inspiration to persevere through the tough times. Leaders who are successful in the long-term ooze centeredness, and we ought to aim to become one of them.
7. CLEARLY STATES VISION, CORE VALUES, & TEAM NORMS
The most effective leaders clearly define a vision, values, and team norms or agreed-upon behaviors—the “why” of their organization—and make sure their teams know and buy into them, too. Then they keep them on the company’s collective mind by taking on the role of Chief Reminding Officer. Not only do these items need to be clearly defined in the minds of the leadership team, they also should be on paper, posted around the office, sent in email reminders, and verbally discussed regularly. The reality is that we all tend to get pulled in many directions, even noble ones, but can lose sight of “True North” until we are reminded of the primary purpose for the work our company does.
Speaking of “why” our organization exists, let’s examine this topic a bit more in-depth.
HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE ACTION: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE OF LEADERSHIP MOTIVATION
People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. What you do simply proves what you believe. -Simon Sinek In his book Start With Why, TED Talk speaker and author Simon Sinek suggests that people and organizations who want to inspire their teams should use a simple framework. He demonstrates how three concentric circles hold the key to inspiring others to action, and how most people naturally and unknowingly start this process answering the question about “what their organization does” rather than “why they do it”. It might seem elementary, but this small shift in your approach to leadership challenges can have dramatically more positive outcomes. And don’t fool yourself. The “why” isn’t to “make a profit” or “grow shareholder value”; it is centered around a “why” that matters to your customer.
The cold, hard truth is that people don’t care about your “what” until they buy into “why you do it,” because this taps into human emotion. Starting with “why” will get more people to buy into your brand by using emotional triggers rather than rational “thinking” triggers, which are much less effective.
It’s something we believe in wholeheartedly. At InitiativeOne, we teach a decision framework to help leaders put this kind of “why” thinking into action. The framework uses four steps to help narrow in on your organizational or personal “why,” your vision or purpose, and why what you do matters to others. Then it allows you to evaluate opportunities and make decisions in a way that’s true to your purpose.
1. Vision: It all starts with defining your compelling purpose for existence. 2. Values/Norms: What are the team norms that you believe need to be paramount in your organization? 3. Critical Goals: Goals should be filtered through the S.M.A.R.T. framework to determine if they are truly worthy enough to be of primary focus.
a. Is it Specific? b. Is it Measurable? c. Is it Agreed upon? d. Is it Realistic? e. Is it Timely?
4. Strategies: Then based on the your critical goals, you develop strategies for “how” to accomplish those.
Take time with each of these four items to define and clarify your purpose. Not only will you be clearer on your messaging internally by following this process, but your team will be inspired to champion that refined message with your external audience.
LEARN FROM THESE 6 INSPIRATIONAL FEMALE LEADERS
With the growing ranks of women in leadership positions, it is important to highlight six stellar examples of female inspirational leadership in countries around the world. Each of these, in her own way, inspired others to lead by example and didn’t worry as much about what others say couldn’t be done.
With a high-profile role on the world stage, these women were as controversial as they were inspirational. These two traits go hand-in-hand in order to be an effective and pioneering leader.
Each of them faced many challenges and most led during a time where, culturally, women were discouraged from leading. Two of them even lost their lives to assassination due to their fierce beliefs and action.
From thoughtful and kind to powerful and proud, here are 6 inspirational female leaders that we can all emulate.
1. OPRAH WINFREY
From rising to fame as the host of The Oprah Winfrey Show to presiding over two influential media companies (Harpo Productions and Oprah Winfrey Network) Oprah Winfrey remains one of the most powerful women in US media. Throughout her extensive and meteoric rise to success, she has inspired an entire generation to pursue their dreams of leadership, regardless of what society may say about gender, race, ethnicity or social status.
2. MARGARET THATCHER
One of the most notable politicians in the United Kingdom, Thatcher was known as an uncompromising conservative. Her policies were both controversial in nature and unflinching in style. She even earned the nickname “Iron Lady,” which was later used as the title for a film about her life. As the first female to lead a major political party in the UK, she served for nearly twelve years in the country’s highest office as Prime Minister. Her indelible legacy has blazed a trail for many other female politicians to follow in her footsteps.
3. ERNA SOLBERG
Erna Solberg became the Prime Minister of Norway in 2013 as a conservative politician. She is only the second female Prime Minister of the country. She has kept the country’s financial position strong despite a recent decline in oil prices,and she’s the only right-wing Prime Minister to have been re-elected to office (2017).
4. INDIRA GANDHI
In keeping with the political theme, Gandhi was and remains the only female Prime Minister of India. She held office from 1966 to 1977 and, after a brief period where she was voted out while the country was under emergency rule, she was again elected PM from 1980 until 1984 when she was assassinated by two of her bodyguards. As a socialist and leading feminist, she pioneered the way for others, particularly in a part of the world that wasn’t as progressive as the West.
5. COCO CHANEL
Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel, whose namesake became a worldwide leader in fashion, helped advance feminism in ways that pushed the boundaries of what clothing women wore in the early to mid 1900s. Most designers during her time were male and had a fashion aesthetic focused on waist cinchers, padded bras, heavy skirts, and stiffened jackets. Chanel rejected those ideals as “illogical” and replaced them with a “look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and unencumbered sportive confidence.” Her positive imprint on the fashion world is undeniable years after her passing.
6. BENAZIR BHUTTO
As the first woman to head a democratic, Muslim country, Bhutto had her work cut out for her in a male-dominated society. She was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. Her plans of secularizing and modernizing the country were opposed by many religious, Islamist ideologues and were likely what contributed to her assassination in 2007, a case still unsolved. An ardent supporter of women’s rights and a hard-liner against militant Islamism, she favored a secular society with a growing and economically stable middle class.
To be inspired by other female leaders, check out this list of top 10 quotes.
HOW DO I ENHANCE MY LEADERSHIP TO BETTER INSPIRE AND MOTIVATE MY TEAM?
We inherently know that inspirational leaders exhibit certain key traits that motivate their teams with a sense of purpose. These leaders focus on the “why” of their existence rather than a myopic “what” view of things. It’s really all about what we focus on that makes us successful, isn’t it? Do you want to inspire your team to reach greater heights than they’ve ever reached before? Are you looking for that spark to motivate your team to achieve new goals? We know exactly what you feel when you have the burning passion to move the needle in your company. And we know precisely how to help your team. Because we’ve been there, and we’ve done it for many world-class organizations. The Seattle Seahawks, the University of Wisconsin, and the Chicago Bears, to name a few of our clients.
At InitiativeOne, we’ve made it our mission to be that trusted, expert partner in leadership training. We aren’t just another course. Ours is different. We focus on the people side of things. After all, we are “human beings,” not “human doings.”
True transformation starts with the hearts and minds of your team members. We don’t just train leaders; we get in the trenches with you to identify and remove the barriers that are holding your team back, all while following a research-based process.
If that sounds good to you, InitiativeOne can help. Contact us today to learn how we can help you become the kind of high-performing team you know you can be.