The Journey of Agile Organisation
Inspirational leaders play an essential role in organisational development. They are catalysts for development and growth. They create positive climates and raise organisational performance levels. They generate business climates and cultures where inspiration thrives. The result is agility, creativity and innovation driven by inspiration.
In today’s complex world, an agile organisation will adapt, grow and progress. Laloux identifies these agile organisations as “Teal Organisations” – evolutionary and purpose-driven. The “Teal” environment is open, honest, encourages risk-taking, tolerates failure and learns fast. This sort of climate enables inspiration and innovation to flow and grow. This environment is enhanced by a diverse workforce, where ideas are openly shared, diversity is respected, and people work effectively in teams. Mutual respect exists, and individuals and groups are valued; people align with the organisation’s purpose.
Inspirational leadership is the catalyst to make this happen.
The Inspirational leader buys into working for the greater good of the organisation and the need to be consistent in their approach, aligned to business goals, and get people to collaborate in high-performing teams. They suspend their ego, are purpose-driven, and act according to an inner moral compass with integrity and radical authenticity, aligned with the organisation’s values.
Does this happen in your workplace? Do you see leaders suspending their egos and working for the organisation’s greater good? Do you see selfless commitment? These are all signs of inspirational leadership in action. Empowerment is at the heart of this action-centred leadership style. Values are clear, and behaviour and actions are aligned with espoused values.
• Do your employees feel empowered, or does your annual “HR People Survey” constantly see comments like “poor or lack of leadership”, “no empowerment” or “ideas not listened to”?
• Do your leaders know your values?
• Do your leaders inspire your workforce and “walk the talk”?
Leaders who create an inspirational climate increase organisational agility, creativity, innovation and competitiveness. Teaming is visible every day, and organisations rise above competitors in complex and demanding circumstances. However fleeting, leaders work to unlock everyone’s potential to seize winning opportunities. Inspiration generates the motivation to act and ignites a fire that spreads to create an inspirational climate and culture. Nurtured and fuelled routinely, people who work in such environments gain the confidence to act boldly and independently in their daily challenges.
Leaders have a responsibility to maximise the potential of their teams and ensure that talent exists in the right place and at the right time to have the most significant impact. This requires leaders to be authentic and to know those they lead, understand them, and place the care of their followers at the forefront of all that they do. Their style is to act with a “servant” mindset; this is the mindset that works with humility, is authentic, open and supports their followers as much or as little as they need.
What can we learn from history?
There are times when a transactional (or directive), “just do it”, or telling/push leadership style is required in business life. These are often in the most demanding of circumstances, e.g. health and safety or emergency scenarios. People often need to react instantly, drawing on their skills, experience, judgment, and training in these situations. However, most of the time, leaders can aspire to be transformational (or inspirational) – and by achieving this, they will motivate their followers and inspire their team to achieve shared goals through shared values, vision, trust and confidence.
Throughout history, perfectly ordinary people have achieved extraordinary results. During the Second World War, some of the best commanders proved to be people pulled from simple daily professions, such as small business owners, carpenters and grocers. They displayed great character and acted with genuine intent, working to ensure the safety and survival of their followers. These people, under extraordinary circumstances, adapted, learnt fast and emerged as survivors and leaders. They inspired trust and confidence and communicated visions that generated belief in survival.
The military develops leaders by focussing on their training and creating muscle memory through repeated practice to speed up responses in stressful situations. Exercise and rehearsal (under as realistic conditions as possible) stretch soldiers and help them understand what to expect. They learn how to manage themselves and still have some capacity to manage their teams.
Daniel Goleman explains this concept in his Emotional Intelligence Model, where we are told to start our leadership journey by becoming self-aware. We need to do this before we can manage ourselves, and we then need to understand others before we can control them. Starting with our behaviour and self-awareness is the key.
Goleman also wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review: “Leadership that gets results”. In this article, he drew from leadership research conducted by The Hay Group. This research identified six distinctive leadership styles and their impact on the organisation’s climate, teams and individuals. Goleman stated that each style springs from different components of Emotional Intelligence. The styles are:
• Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance (coercive leadership style)
• Authoritative leaders mobilise people toward a vision (visionary leadership style).
• Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony (affiliative leadership style).
• Democratic leaders build consensus through participation (participative leadership style).
• Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction (pacesetting leadership style).
• Coaching leaders develop people for the future (coaching leadership style)
Goleman stated that the most influential leaders use a range of styles and adapt their styles to suit the situation. His research indicated that authoritative/visionary leaders were the most inspirational as they were:
• Have obvious purpose and standards
• Set the vision and then empower people to implement it and be innovative
Inspirational leaders throughout history displayed several of the characteristics of the
authoritative/visionary Leadership style, notably the ability to communicate a motivational vision with outstanding clarity and create an environment that empowers people to do their thinking and planning. In the military, this is called “mission command” – that is, explain the mission (what is to be achieved) in terms of the desired effect/outcome and leave the commander to figure out how to get there. The ability of a commander to articulate a clear vision/mission is crucial to ensure clear understanding, aligned action, and creativity in the face of adversity.
Inspiration and neuroscience
Insights from neuroscience can help us understand how leaders inspire others. Recent research has demonstrated the power of direct interactive relationships (what happens between brains) to shape and reinforce neural connections5. This concept is used by TED Talk specialists today. TED talk speakers communicate a unique idea with passion and clarity and link it to a real-life narrative to help people connect to the picture. They are excellent storytellers.
We can all learn to tell stories – this is an art that just requires some explanation and practice! Once a connection (via a well-constructed story) is made in the brain, the seed is sown, the person listening to the idea begins to form neural connections, and the idea takes root and grows in the receiver’s brain.
Inspirational Leaders are often great narrators and efficiently recruit people to their cause. Winston Churchill was a master at public speaking; yet at school, he struggled. He learnt the skills later in life, proving that we can all learn to give speeches through study and practice.
However, what was Churchill’s secret? How did he do this? Neuroscience explains this more scientifically than the traditional view of Churchill as an inherently charismatic speaker born with these skills. People react to inspirational leaders and speakers through affiliation and identifying with their causes. The leader’s words and critical phrases make people want to belong to, or reject, the leader and their cause.
Inspirational leaders are often radical, speak with passion and their vision is aligned with a cause which ignites emotions and forms connections with followers. Tara et al. (2015) state that: “The ability to engage with others at the level of emotions, that ‘thing’ that happens between brains that are called ‘affective’ interaction is the critical component of inspiration.”
Emotions play an essential part in inspiration. Inspirational leaders feel and elicit potent emotions around their cause and mobilise people to act. Emotional resonance is developed around the objects of attachments. It is essential that the object of the attention and adoration remains something of benefit to the broader group or cause rather than the leader.