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Why Inspiration Alone Is Not Enough To Be An Inspiring Leader

Strong leaders unlock higher performance by empowering people.

Tiaan Moolman and Eric Garton

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Inspirational Leadership

When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organisations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.

Our research shows that while anyone can become an inspiring leader (they’re made, not born), in most companies, there are far too few of them. In employer surveys that we conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we found that less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring or were unlocking motivation in employees. Even fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement or commitment and modelled the culture and values of the corporation.

To understand what makes a leader inspirational, Bain & Company launched a new research programme, starting with a survey of 2 000 people. What we found surprised us. It turns out that inspiration alone is not enough. Just as leaders who deliver only performance may do so at a cost that the organisation is unwilling to bear, those who focus only on inspiration may find that they motivate the troops but are undermined by mediocre outcomes. Instead, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions — and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

Here are some of our additional findings about how leaders both inspire, and get, great performance.

You only need one truly ‘inspiring’ attribute

We asked survey recipients what inspired them about their colleagues. This gave us a list of 33 traits that help leaders in four areas: Developing inner resources, connecting with others, setting the tone and leading the team:

  • Stress tolerance, self-regard and optimism help leaders develop inner resources
  • Vitality, humility and empathy help leaders connect
  • Openness, unselfishness and responsibility help set the tone
  • Vision, focus, servanthood and sponsorship help them lead.

We found that people who inspire are incredibly diverse, which underscores the need to find inspirational leaders that are right for motivating your organisation — there is no universal archetype. A corollary of this finding is that anyone can become an inspirational leader by focusing on his or her strengths.

Although we found that many different attributes help leaders inspire people, we also found that you need only one of them to double your chances of being an inspirational leader. Specifically, ranking in the top 10% in your peer group on just one attribute nearly doubles your chance of being seen as inspirational. However, there is one trait that our respondents indicated matters more than any other: Centeredness. This is a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathise, listen deeply and remain present.

Your key strength has to match how your organisation creates value

Effective leadership isn’t generic. To achieve great performance, companies need a leadership profile that reflects their unique context, strategy, business model and culture — the company’s unique behavioural signature. To win in the market, every company must emphasise the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those ‘spikes’ must be relevant to the way that the company creates value. For example, an organisation that makes its money out-marketing the competition isn’t likely to be inspired by a leader whose best talent is cost management. Spiky leaders achieve great performance by obsessing about the specific capabilities that underpin their company’s competitive advantage. They make sure those capabilities get an outsized, unfair share of resources and provide the key players the freedom they need to continue to excel.

Related: 15 Of South Africa’s Business Leaders’ Best Advice For Your Business

You have to behave differently if you want your employees to do so

Even with a clear idea of your company’s winning behavioural signature, leaders need to develop new ways of operating. We found that leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviours to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.

Inspirational leaders recognise the need to pick their moments carefully to reinforce a performance culture in a way that can also be inspiring. These are real moments of leadership and truth. Two of our favourite, classic examples include:

  • When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO after a nearly eight-year hiatus, he realised that Starbucks’ unique customer-focused coffee experience was now in the back seat. In the front seat were automation and diversification, both implemented in pursuit of throughput and growth. Schultz took swift action to change the company’s direction; he even shut down 7 100 US stores for three hours on 26 February 2008 to retrain the baristas in the art of making espresso. In this highly symbolic move, he left no doubt about his intentions — and about what he thought it would take to make Starbucks great again.
  • When Alan Mulally came to Ford in 2006 to help turn around the business, he took bold actions to change the way the company operated. In one highly visible moment, he applauded Mark Fields (who would eventually become his successor) for admitting to a failure in an executive meeting. That was pretty much unheard of at Ford and it set the tone for the open and honest communications required for a new culture at the company.

While these are only single actions by leaders who are famous for producing both performance and inspiration, they provide a window into what inspirational leadership looks like.

Drawing insight from Eastern philosophy, one of our clients once said, “If you want to change the way of being, you have to change the way of doing.” This struck us as profound in the moment and even more profound over time — and the sentiment matches what we learnt in our research. Leaders can only change by doing things differently. The more often they behave in a new way, the sooner they become a new type of leader, an inspirational leader. We know that individual inspiration is the gateway to employee discretionary energy, and that, in turn, is critical to making the most of your scarcest resource — your human capital.


Leaders driving economic value

To win in the market, every company must emphasise the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those ‘spikes’ must be relevant to the way that the company creates value.

Tiaan Moolman is a partner in Bain & Company’s Johannesburg office where he leads the firm’s Organisation practice in Africa. Eric Garton is a partner in Bain & Company’s Chicago office and leader of the firm’s Global Organisation practice. He is co-author of Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organisational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power.

Leading

Become Your Best In Business

How can you streamline the actions you take in your business?

Dr John Demartini

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A few of the primary keys to becoming successful in business include having a clear intent or purpose, a truly inspiring vision, a grand message to share, a genuine social calling and a targeted niche to serve. From these initial basics arise the primary strategic objectives you would love to accomplish or achieve and a plan for their implementation. But before these objectives can be met, the mastery of the mind is to be initiated.

True business leaders are those who are congruent and integrated and who can organise and lead their inner parts purposefully. Once leaders govern themselves, they can govern others.

Time Is Life

When you loaf about, your mind starts thinking about all kinds of doubts, insecurities, fears, other people’s beliefs and worries about what’s happening and what isn’t happening. Such dead time can zap your energy and confidence levels and distract your mind from your purpose. Any time or space that’s not filled with high priorities often automatically becomes filled with low priorities.

Have you noticed that when you’re busy, you often accomplish and create much more? The more intensely you’re focused and active and the longer you maintain such a focus, the faster your accomplishments (time x intensity = results). Time spent on doubt, fear, or low-priority actions slows down your accomplishment process.

When you take your mind off your focus, all you see are obstacles. When your mind is focused on your dreams, you don’t have time for the many self-doubts that block them.

Raise Your Standard

Anything you do consumes time. To maximise the value of your time, prioritise your interactions. People who seem less busy and want to consume your time may think you’re being rude when you say no to their invitations, but busy people understand immediately that you’re just choosing to prioritise and wisely manage your time.

People who don’t value their own time want to take up yours with small talk, and if you keep associating with people who talk small, you could end up with a small life. You’ll find out what kind of people they are by putting a fee on your time and raising that fee regularly. If people really value your skills and time, they’ll pay for it.

“A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Often when you perform a service for less than you feel you deserve, you lower your worth and enthusiasm and slow down your business. Even though you may be working like a ‘dog’, it’s neither efficient nor effective.

Any aspect of your work that pays less than you truly feel you deserve can become the weak link of your business. In addition to undermining your motivation, inefficiency and ineffectiveness can also reduce profit margins. When you or your employees perform effective actions in an inefficient way, ineffective actions in an efficient way or ineffective actions in an inefficient way, your business becomes undermined. Your worth can be determined by how efficient and effective you are at performing high-priority actions. Business masters are those who love what they do, do what they love, and work efficiently and effectively. They delegate everything else to those who desire to do the same.

How can you streamline the actions you take in your business? Ask yourself, “What can I delegate?” You’ll be far more productive, energised, and inspired at the end of the day when you can stick to actions you deem to be high-priority. Unless you value your time, neither will the world.

For more information on Dr Demartini’s teachings, visit www.drdemartini.com

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Leading

How To Be A Leader

Lead by example and you’ll win the respect and loyalty of your staff.

Richard Mukheibir

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Being a successful entrepreneur is not about locking yourself away in your workshop and bringing a great innovation to life. Certainly, you need a must-have product that will have customers beating a path to your door. But you also need the business skills to ensure you can scale up production – and the leadership skills to motivate the staff you have employed to help you make this happen.

It is rare to find these three key skills balanced equally in an entrepreneur. Most have more of one quality than another – but there is one of these qualities that we tend to fool ourselves about.

Most of us know whether we have creative skills that can produce great innovations or whether we need to improve our business skills. Almost all of us assume we can be leaders if circumstances mean we have to step up to the plate. However, almost all of us are wrong about that.

Leadership skills are something that you develop and hone as your career progresses. You might think that being head girl at school, rugby captain or president of your Toastmasters’ branch means that you have got leadership nailed.

You would be right that you have some leadership experience. But you are wrong because so much about leadership depends on context. Just as what works on the rugby field and what works in the debating chamber are not the same, so what works in business is different.

In part, it can depend on the size and sector of your business. That in turn is partly because your understanding of the context – your business savvy as opposed to your business skills – is as important as your credibility as a leader.

But there are some common traits in leaders that work in all business contexts. Once you have these nailed, you will find that you can reuse them in different businesses as you expand your entrepreneurial interests.

Here are three starter principles to put into practice today:

1. Be first

Get to work first and leave last. As an entrepreneur, one of the prime qualities you need is energy. You need to put mental and physical energy into knowing the detail of what is going on in your business.   Listen to the insights of your staff as to how your systems are taking strain or could be streamlined. If you are serious about growing your business, you cannot expect to achieve this as a sleeping partner who drops by the business premises at best once a week.

2. Be a team player

Make it clear that you are not giving yourself privileges just because you are the boss. If your business involves any kind of production line, whether actual or virtual, you should be able to pitch in and help out if there is a rush of demand or an unusual number of staff hit by the virus that is going round. This is also an opportunity to check personally on the effectiveness of the systems you have set up and make tweaks where you see bottlenecks or downtime occurring.

3. Be last

As well as leaving work last, you should also pay yourself last. Consider this part of your investment in your business – and also an investment that will pay dividends in consolidating staff loyalty.

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Leading

Peak Performance – How To Become A Strong And Legendary Business Leader

The starting point is to consistently and constantly build and mould an unshakeable character and add a clear strategy for your personal life and your business.

Dirk Coetsee

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business-leadership

‘Leadership is a potent combination of Character and strategy’

– General Norman Schwarzkopf

Leadership has long fallen into the category of the enigmatic. It is no longer the case considering the ‘deep dive’ neuroscientists, psychologists and industrial psychologists have taken into understanding the brain and human behaviour in general.

For those that have a deep and driving desire to understand themselves better volumes of highly beneficial research are available to you. How willing you are to seek for and apply the infinite amount of knowledge out there is dependent upon your priorities, your ‘grit’ and your level of desire to personally transform and be impactful in this world.

Most of all a strong belief in your own abilities to become a legendary business leader is a basic requirement for the alchemy from follower to leader to take place.

The human nature guru Robert Greene describes a strong character as follows:

“Strong character has a tensile quality like a good piece of metal – it can give and bend but still retains its overall shape and never breaks”

Character is who you really are, not what you want others to think of you. Who you truly are is especially revealed under the most challenging circumstances. How your investors, co-founders, employees and clients view you is highly dependent upon your actions during times of business crisis, failure or when you as an entrepreneur are faced with turbulent personal circumstances.

The ability to authentically and empathetically (towards yourself and others) take a stand for your beliefs, admit (to yourself most of all) to your mistakes, rectify them (the highest and truest form of an apology) within times of strife and difficulty leads to a strong and un-breakable character.

Through this writing you are strongly urged to reflect on the fact that a strong character will not fall from the sky and simply be bestowed upon you, instead a strong character, akin to steel, is moulded and shaped by fire meaning that your character is mostly shaped by challenging times.

As the late master poet Leonard Cohen said –

‘There is a crack in everything that is where the light seeps in’

Nothing is perfect and when you truly learn from failures and mistakes your wounds can become blessings, your tests can become testimonies and you can lead others to achieve the same.

Those that have a slight and very determined smile on their face and maintain belief and even dramatically increase their levels of performance the moment they recognise that they have arrived within a highly challenging space are the ones that have trained for that exact moment.

The Navy Seals say:

“You do not rise to the challenge you fall to your level of training”

All external information gathered within each moment enters the brain and is processed through the Amygdala first – that part of the brain that provides housing for the ‘fight or flight’ response. Information is first filtered through your very own doubts, fears and insecurities.

If you have not worked on your own fears diligently and instilled habitual mechanisms of effective action triggered by fear your re-actions of lack of action (procrastination) will not be optimal at all. ‘Grit’ is born at the intersection of passion and perseverance and can be trained. Bravery can be trained. Leadership can be trained. Character although influenced by genetics can be trained.

All tools to succeed at the aforementioned subjects are within us all, in a lot of cases lying dormant and anxiously awaiting your increased levels of awareness which will empower you to use the tools required effectively.

As a practical example I coach my ‘Peak Performance’ clients to train for Grit in the following way – Choose a day of the week when you are especially tired and not in the greatest of moods force yourself to the gym and train the toughest muscle group for you (usually legs) and where you normally do three sets of squats do seven and make those sets harder than before in every way.

Or again choose a day of the week again where you are very tired and instead of taking a plunge onto the couch to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ or whatever it is, go and hike, a long tough hike that will really test you.

It does sound harsh but you will thank yourself when the tough times occur and they will, that you have willingly trained yourself for grit.

On to the subject of Strategy which forms a potent combination with character and results in Leadership.

Dictionary.com defines strategy as:

A plan, method, or series of manoeuvres or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.

For a strategy to be effective a basic requirement of many requirements is that a clear and highly specific end vision and/or goal, and/or result must be defined. Visions, goals or desired results are often vaguely defined because the often subconscious fear of clearly defining our failures by setting clear and measurable goals plagues us.

The mind struggles with finding solutions, answers and strategies when vague goals are set. It is also very hard to retain focus on anything that is very vague. As the importance of an effective plan to achieve your well defined Vision and goals cannot be overstated I strongly recommend getting expert help to facilitate a future session.

Once the desired end result, goals and vision is crystal clear we can ‘reverse engineer’ an effective plan that can actualise our dreams. We need to create a metric system that constantly, consistently and visibly measures our progress and success of our plan. The metrics will notify us of challenges and will signal a need for adjustments within our strategy.

The very good news emanating from this article is that anyone can be a legendary leader should they not only sincerely wish to be a leader but also take effective action on becoming one. The starting point is to consistently and constantly build and mould an unshakeable character and add a clear strategy for your personal life and your business.

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