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Value of Being Earnest: Why True Leader Inspire

1st Feb 2019
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There are many traits that go into making an effective leader, but which traits make a leader truly inspiring? The most important qualities of an inspiring leader are the two that get people excited about your vision—whatever it may be—in the first place. These qualities galvanize your team, draw them in and energize them to support your vision.

A survey by Bain research reveals that employees who are inspired are over two times as productive as employees who are merely satisfied. Inspiration is something that moves people; it stirs up the life force and motivates this force to action. Inspiration is a tall order, and to awaken something this deep and fundamental you must be coming from a genuine place; a place of enthusiasm for your business and openness to people and new ideas. This brings us to the first essential component of inspiring leadership, authenticity. 

The All-Out Importance of Authenticity

It’s lonely at the top, or so they say. There can be a great deal of pressure for those in leadership roles to be some version of perfect. What defines perfect varies depending upon your particular point of view, but it generally translates to stoic, unflappable, confident in every situation and always quick to have the ideal solution to any problem—in other words, invulnerable on an Olympian scale. 

There must be no cracks in the varnish or evidence of indecision and uncertainty. Different people will have different coping mechanisms to deal with this perfection syndrome and conceal any vulnerabilities. A shy CEO may withdraw and conduct all meetings cloistered away behind closed doors with only a few top confidantes present. An exec who is a more outgoing personality may superficially interact with her team but adopt a stiff façade of unassailable calm and balance.

I once knew a CEO of a health and wellness brand who was deeply committed to projecting the image of a living, breathing inspirational quote. Because of the nature of his business and its mission to promote personal wellness, he felt the urgent need to present a persona that embodied perfect zen. This imperative within him alienated his team members and kept him from connecting with them in the authentic way that promotes an open exchange of ideas.

The willingness to judiciously share information about struggles and triumphs is a quality that any leader who wishes to truly inspire must cultivate.

Richard Branson, an undeniably inspiring leader openly shares his thoughts about his failures and what they’ve taught him. He went head to head with Coca Cola when he launched Virgin Cola in 1994. After the cola business fell ‘flat’ in 2012 he concluded that his mistake in the venture was failing to offer a product that was “radically different enough.”

You don’t need to be a consummate showman or a gregarious personality to be a compelling leader. Bill Gates is a famously successful introvert who developed a unique way of capitalizing on his disability. He would take a few days by himself to work on a difficult problem and then come back with ideas that he would then hire an extroverted personality to help him implement.

There is no specific personality requirement for inspiring leadership; the only essential is to be authentic and accessible. When your team sees you as a human yet resilient leader, they are motivated to greater achievements themselves. Consider this inspiring thought from Douglas Conant, former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company:

"Simply take the next unplanned interaction as an opportunity to help. Maybe you can ask the right question to help someone get a little clearer, or maybe you can reinforce the importance of a project to help a team become a little more committed. Now think about what would happen if you were to be helpful to others three times a day for the next week. How would that feel? What if you were to do it again next week, and the week after that?"

Which thought brings us to the next essential trait—really more of a skill that can be continually honed; the ability to communicate effectively with your team.

Authenticity Creates the Connection Needed to Communicate Effectively

I once spent an awkward and disheartening after-work elevator ride with a man who had recently become CEO of the company I worked for. I attempted to make eye contact to give him a quick smile and a “have a nice evening” to no avail. The two minutes in the elevator flew by like hours and left me with a sinking feeling. No doubt this CEO was not a people person. I had seen already that he was able to speak compellingly in front of a crowd, but at the mixer where he was introduced to us all, he darted uncomfortably from person to person, ending conversations with awkward abruptness. 

This CEO had not yet developed a communication style that suited his personality. His inability to connect and communicate with his team started to affect the larger operations of the business and the company began to founder. Employees were left feeling uninspired and struggling to feel a connection, not only to the CEO but to the company’s overall mission. 

According to The Harvard Business Review, dysfunction within organizations is often caused by the distance between leaders who communicate in a detached, top-down manner, and their employees who feel left out in the cold by these seemingly unapproachable C-level execs. 

It becomes impossible to bridge this gap and engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue—let alone inspire your team—when leaders neglect to communicate important information in a timely manner, or worse, communicate only as an afterthought.

A company culture in which only some employees are kept abreast of important information, or expectations are consistently unclear can negatively affect a company’s bottom line. 

Poor communication has been implicated in organizational failures in companies like Nokia, Enron, and British Petroleum. A White House report showed that contributing factors to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill included “poor communications” and failing to “share important information.” In the second quarter of 2015, the company reported a loss of 5.8 billion following a huge settlement for the Gulf of Mexico spill.

At the other end of the spectrum, Twitter founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey certainly seem to have mastered the art of effective communication. According to Decker Communications, he has an accessible personality, a knack for to connecting with audiences and an ability to “Simplify complexity.” 

Under Dorsey’s stewardship, Twitter shares climbed 88 percent and Square shares climbed 154 percent over the 12-month period between June 2017 and May 2018. Twitter, which Dorsey took over in 2015, had its first profitable quarter in Q4 of 2017. 

Authenticity and Effective Communication Are the Foundation

Of course, there many other important requirements for good and inspiring leadership. Among them are having a clear mission and vision, being supportive of employee advancement and self-development, working collaboratively, acknowledging employee accomplishments and being a good listener. It is not a coincidence that none of these points listed can be implemented without a solid foundation for effective communication.

Not everyone comes into the C-suite with all of these skills in their toolboxes. They are skills that can be learned and then fine-tuned throughout your career to maximize your efficacy if you are clear-sighted enough to recognize that there may be room for improvement in your leadership style. If you sense the need for further fine-tuning of your skillset, it’s never a bad idea to seek out the help of a mentor who will work with you to define and achieve your goals.

Consultancies like CEO Coaching International offer guidance to C-level executives and also provide genuine opportunities to connect with peers which can promote growth both personal and professional. The support of a trusted advisor supplemented with the fellowship of other executives who are facing similar challenges allows you to let down your guard, be your true self and honestly exchange ideas and experiences. This kind of genuine support system can help you to take the growth of your company to the next level.

Developing a viable and inspiring leadership style is well worth the effort. Your business and life will run more smoothly, and your employees will thank you. 

Good communication starts at the top. Add to the mix a company culture built on authentic relationships and transparency and you have an excellent foundation for growth.

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