Transformation Starts with Inspirational Leadership

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Habits of Highly Productive Transformation Leaders
Prof. Lere Baale

Let us be frank: most “leaders” do not lead at all – they simply tell people what to do. Here is a thought: if we could stop telling and start inspiring. Without inspiration, we can never truly achieve organisational or people transformation. Inspiration is the driving force behind any true transformation. So let us ask, “Why am I inspired to transform the organisation, my business, people, and leadership?” If the answer is, “I do not know”, we need to dig deeper.

1. Let us ask ourselves three powerful questions:
2. What will happen if this business, people, and leadership stay stagnant?
3. What will happen if competitors figure it out and transform before our business?
4. What will happen when this business, people, and leadership transform?

By answering those three questions, we can start to ignite the inspiration needed to move forward with our organisation, business, people and leadership transformation. Here is a great tip: if you find yourself struggling with the questions, try doing a little research. Go online and search for other companies, people, or leaders you admire that have transformed. How did they do it? What were their needs? Ask people in your company to answer the same questions.

Without inspiration, we are more likely just to be going through the motions without concrete forward movement. That will never work. The reason? It will just be another programme or corporate initiative. You know, the kind you always hated when you were an employee, and your boss tried to stuff something down the ranks, telling everyone how committed they are. However, of course, you and the rest of the team knew better. So you played along, waiting for it to pass, and within a few days, weeks or months, you all were right back to where you were before – pretending everything was great.
This is why you, as the leader (boss, supervisor), must find true inspiration. Only with your inspiration will you be able to get others inspired too.

Finding inspiration
Let us talk about how to find your inspiration. My first suggestion is to do some real soul searching to find your inspiration. There is a reason you are reading this article. What was it? Is your organisation suffering from a high turnover? Have you been losing market share in recent months? Are your employee engagement scores lower than expected? Are you hearing about changes in your industry? Whatever your reason, good for you; at least you are starting to think about the future.

However, the doom and gloom do not have to be the only motivator. Perhaps you are in the other camp, trying to think ahead of your competition. You are already on top of your game; you do not want to lose it. You want to stay on top, and you know transformation is the only way to ensure you do not become complacent.

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Determining why you feel the need to transform is the key; INSPIRATION is the engine! Now go and start your inspiration engine!

For centuries, academics and gurus have focused on the topic of “leadership” – what it is, how to develop personal leadership skills, leadership styles, and the impact of good leadership. However, from business experience, the emphasis has begun to change. Not only do we need to think about how to develop our leaders, but we need to focus on what inspiration truly is and find our inner source of inspiration to enhance leadership capability.

We will always need leaders, but leaders now, more than ever, need to inspire a change weary workforce to deliver more with less. The Oxford dictionary defines inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

We will try to explore this concept, but early on, we will explore why we believe that inspirational leadership is more than a process and why emotion is equally important. Inspirational leaders today must engage more than just the minds of their followers; they need to engage their hearts as well.

Inspiration stimulates followers to reflect internally. When values are aligned, deep emotional drivers are engaged, and the follower is moved and motivated to act and raise their level of performance to achieve higher goals. When two or more people are involved, inspirational leadership takes on a new dimension, and inspiration becomes leadership with impact; it becomes an unseen living flow of ideas and emotions between two or more minds and hearts.

The emotional connection fuels a desire to overcome challenges and achieve new stimulating results, which deliver a sense of achievement. These powerful emotions inspire the givers and receivers to collaborate towards a common goal. This goal may be a small step change or a transformational movement. Inspirational leadership engages people by tapping into their motivation and inspiring flow, creativity, innovation and coordinated action.

We believe that John Quincy Adams (6th US president)’s definition of leadership aligns with our thinking on inspirational leadership: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a [inspirational] leader.’

We will explore the topic of inspirational leadership. Together, we will travel through the landscape of ideas that have inspired the thinking behind leadership development, both past and present. The author has also drawn from his experience as a leader in a global setting and as a consultant in the business of leadership and agile organisational development to enrich the discussion.

It is hoped that we will understand the essence of inspiration, find a definition of inspirational leadership that works for us and understand why it is essential in today’s business world. We will look at how inspirational leadership impacts organisational performance and presents a model for us to consider how inspirational leadership leads to organisation maturity.

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A deeper understanding of inspirational leadership is presented by reflecting on what we can learn from history plus the more modern field of neuroscience. The importance of being different and bold is explained through a review of world leaders and references to famous speeches to demonstrate how to engage the hearts of followers.

Finally, we outline six things to think about when designing an inspirational leadership development programme before presenting conclusions on the topic and reviewing what this means for us.

Why is inspirational leadership important?
Today’s businesses are constantly grappling with challenging business targets. Leaders are trying to deliver these targets in a competitive world that is continually changing, developing and moving. New disruptive technology introduces a step-change in competitive advantage every day. People are also constantly moving, teams form and reform and companies are on the hunt for talent.

In this context, HR departments and L&D professionals need to evolve with business needs to be helpful. New thinking is required to develop our most talented employees and keep them in our businesses.

• But what is new in the field of leadership development?
• Where should we focus our efforts in the current globalised, digital and complex world?
We will explore these questions and build on known best practices in leadership development. We will also be explaining why “inspiration” and “inspirational leadership” are critical factors for business success.

Inspirational leadership inspires action, significantly raises individual and team performance levels and ignites creativity and audacious innovation. It truly unlocks latent potential by tapping into our inner motivation and values and inspiring people to follow their passion and move towards ambitious goals. In our experience, inspired and motivated people and teams significantly impact organisational performance.

Can we all become inspirational leaders?
Everyone can become an inspirational leader; all we need to do is unlock our inspirational potential and find an opportunity to demonstrate our capability. We all have an emotional blueprint and style which will be unique to each person. However, there are skills which we can learn, grow and develop to increase our impact on our followers.

It is essential to understand that becoming an inspirational leader requires focused effort, practice and an ability to conduct self-reflection. Inspiration is personal; our source of inspiration is closely linked to our beliefs, values and identity.

Inspirational leadership is a mindset and a skill. It should be thought of as an action-orientated mindset where one individual can ignite a fire in another person’s heart and mind and move a person or team to take action and achieve something more significant than the current status quo far beyond their imagination.

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An example would be the person who watches a friend complete a marathon and 10,000 other people and feels a wave of admiration, excitement, and enthusiasm at the sacrifice and hard work the friend has achieved for a moving cause. The observer feels the drive to sponsor or even go further and sign up to do a marathon the following year. This is inspiration at work. Significant action takes place often without the source of the inspiration even knowing (the marathon runner, in this case).

This fascinating topic is open for exploration and contribution by those interested in understanding more.
Let us start the journey of exploration by looking first at the essence of inspiration itself, where the reader will be introduced to empowerment, trust, accountability, authentic leadership, leadership ethos and teamwork. Inspirational leadership is excellent but has limited use in the workplace if it has little impact on the organisation. With this in mind, we explore what inspirational leadership means for organisation performance and why it is essential.

Topics such as diversity, respect, authenticity and talent will be explored in the context of inspiration and organisational development. We will also be looking at two basic leadership philosophies which support the inspirational leadership mindset – servant leadership and followership.

We will also consider what history can teach us about inspirational leadership and what we can learn from the modern military on how to inspire employees and develop high performing teams. The concept and importance of mission command and leadership styles will then be explored, and a discussion is presented on which style generates the most inspiration.

This will be incomplete without reviewing the link between inspiration and neuroscience. This, combined with a reflection on what we can learn from Churchill about how he inspired a nation to action through empowering speeches, reflection on the importance of emotions, attachment theory and psychological safety, and inspirational leadership development and application in business.

We conclude with a reflection review on the latest thinking about teams. The concept of “teaming” is introduced, and teaming skills are discussed in the context of why our leaders today should have teaming skills in their portfolio of capabilities. These skills are critical to survival in the complex world we operate in today. To demonstrate inspirational leadership in action, we uniquely explore this with a speech that inspired a transformational movement across a nation.

We also cover in our conclusions some ideas on how to develop emotional skills through development centres and encourage reflection on the importance of diversity, courage and the need to deliver inspiration in your unique way.

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