Want To Be A Better Leader? Be An Inspiration.
There are many paths to becoming a better leader. You can read books. You can follow the careers and actions of people you consider great leaders. Or, if you’re really motivated, you can take courses or become an officer in the military. If you stop and think about it, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways, big and small, to become a better leader.
In my opinion, the most direct route to becoming a better leader right away is to be an inspiration to those you would like to lead. But how do you become an inspiration? On paper it doesn’t sound too tough, but what does it really mean to inspire others?
Let’s look at three examples of people who are widely considered great leaders and consider whether they inspired others, and if yes, how they did it.
In the business realm, one of the names thrown around quite a bit as one of the great leaders is Jack Welch. He ran GE for several decades and did so with extraordinary and consistent profitability results. Was he an inspiration? Most would say that yes, he was an inspiration. He inspired his team members and employees to achieve extraordinary financial results. Did he do so by being a nice guy and making a bunch of friends along the way? Not really! I’ve known a bunch of people who worked for Jack Welch and the stories they’ve told me about interactions with him, especially during periodic and “special” meetings, would not cause you to label him a nice guy looking to make friends. Instead, he had extremely high expectations of his employees, particularly his direct reports, and he required that they showed up to meetings very prepared, with well thought out strategies and answers to tough questions. If they didn’t, they may not be with the company much beyond the end of the meeting where they exhibited their lack of preparation and diligence. So, one way to be a better leader and inspire others is to have very high expectations of them and to accept nothing less.
Human beings, especially achievers, want to be challenged and will perform extraordinary feats for leaders who believe in them and hold them accountable.
In the social realm, there are many examples of great leaders who inspired others, but it would be hard to find a better one than Mahatma Gandhi. Anyone who can lead the charge to completely change the reality of hundreds of millions of people, in a non-violent way, is worthy of study and recognition. Unlike many leaders who have led revolts and changed the direction of entire societies, Gandhi did so through a non-violent, civil disobedience approach. This flies in the face of what we often think of as rallying the troops and charging toward the enemy, in a classic military sense. Civil disobedience is a much more subtle game, which requires a leader who can paint a vision of a future worthy of fighting for, a future that is, in fact, so worthy that it warrants not seeking immediate gratification, but continuing to sacrifice in the name of the ultimate goal of freedom and self-rule (in Gandhi and India’s case). This is a form of leading through inspiration that requires a leader with extraordinary willpower and commitment to their ideals and goals. Gandhi was such a leader, as were Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, among many others. If you seek to become a better leader through inspiring others to take on a tough, even seemingly impossible, cause and continue persevering until the end goal is reached, these are some of the role models you will want to emulate.
Finally for this article, let’s look at a leader in the sports realm. He was a coach who led his teams to a still-unmatched ten national championships, with seven of them in consecutive seasons in the late sixties and early seventies. He was the legendary John Wooden, who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team from 1948 to 1975. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time. In a testament to the power of perseverance, he did not win his first national title until 1964, his sixteenth year coaching the UCLA team. Wooden was an inspiration to his players and to many coaches and players since. Famously, he coached in great part based on a seven-point credo given to him by his father when he was a young boy (see Forever Coach by Eric Neel: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=wooden):
1.) Be true to yourself.
2.) Make each day your masterpiece.
3.) Help others.
4.) Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
5.) Make friendship a fine art.
6.) Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7.) Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Though Coach Wooden did go on to develop a more in-depth roadmap that he called the Pyramid of Success (find it at , these seven principles were the foundation of his own success and philosophy on coaching and life. This goes to prove that being a great leader and an inspiration to others does not have to be complicated. In fact, it’s often a mistake to make it too complicated, as that can be intimidating and can lead to inaction in yourself and others.
If you seek to become a better leader, I encourage you to “drink deeply” from the wisdom and experiences of other great leaders and find ways to be an inspiration to others. Remember, there are many ways to inspire others; find those that work for you. By doing so, you will find that your leadership abilities and impact will grow at a faster rate than you may have thought possible and they also will likely be more sustainable over time.
I look forward to your thoughts. Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.
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