What does it take to inspire others? In The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day (Amacom, 2017), Kristi Hedges, a leadership communications expert and author who coaches CEOs and senior executives, draws from in-depth research to highlight the tools and practices used by inspirational leaders. Her guide provides a targeted approach to igniting inspiration, relying on a framework informed by hundreds of interviews, survey data and communications studies.
With a methodology Hedges calls "The Inspiration Path," the book takes complex leadership concepts and translates them into actionable steps.
Here are five surprising findings about inspirational leaders, according to Hedges:
- Listening is the highest rated inspirational behavior. We're not inspired as much when someone talks at us as we are when someone listens to us. Time spent crafting beautiful messages matters less than what happens when leaders are quiet. To be an inspiring leader, you have to listen fully, with an open mind.
- Small moments have the biggest impact. Most people recall their most inspired moments as times they were engaged in personal conversations where another person spoke authentically and focused on them. People can hold the words from an inspiring 10-minute conversation for their entire lives. Conversations create an inspirational trigger. For example, a conversation about purpose hits upon why we are at this moment in our lives and in our careers. These conversations transcend what we're doing in the here and now to reveal patterns that take us further, enhance our enjoyment, tap into our passion and spark in us the will to be in service to a larger cause.
- Identifying and vocalizing another person's potential is life-changing. People who inspire us notice and grow our potential—honestly, specifically and graciously. We are often unaware of the unique talents and value we bring. Having someone take the time to tell us is a powerful reminder and can open our minds to what's possible.
- People who inspire us are real, just like us. Contrary to common cultural myths that inspirational leaders are either charismatic iconoclasts or flawless, unflappable ideals, those who inspire us are actually relatable and down-to-earth. Truly inspirational leaders don't script their words, put on false airs or try to be perfect. They get through to us because they're authentic. To be more inspirational, you need to let any well-honed professional persona go. We connect with people on emotional terms. We want to see what they actually care about.
- Technology is killing inspiration. Distraction and distance are enemies of inspiration. One study found that just the appearance of a cellphone on the table during a conversation—even if silenced—reduces empathy. If you want to be inspiring, you need to get away from distractions, electronic or otherwise, and show up fully.
Hedges contends that inspirational communicators don't possess any rare qualities, only the will to sharpen their listening skills, spark purpose in others and build connections that lead to an engaged workforce.
Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.