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Viewpoint: How to Practice Inspirational Leadership

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​Leaders motivate and inspire respect by supporting employees, listening and showing they care. There is no need to rack our brains to figure out how to motivate others when simple things done in kindness and selflessness inspire our employees to do their best.

"Think about it," said Heather Kruse, chief human resources officer at Viewpoint School in Calabasas, Calif. "Books are published focusing on hundreds or thousands of ways of motivating employees, but the truth is that workers motivate themselves. Your job isn't so much to motivate your employees as it is simply to create a work environment in which they can motivate themselves." 

Workplace Wisdom

"What you want for yourself, give to another" is simple wisdom that is sometimes missing in corporate America. No matter where you work or what you do, you can be the best boss your staffers have ever had. "You can be that person who influenced and supported them to become better people and stronger contributors. You can be that caring [listener] that encourages, that experienced mentor who guides, and that engaged leader who motivates," Kruse said. Ask yourself two questions: 

  • Would you want to work for you?
  • If all leaders within your organization followed your lead, would your company be a better place as a result? 

What Being Someone's 'Favorite Boss' Really Means

When someone describes his or her favorite boss, the description typically sounds something like this: "She always made me feel included. She challenged me to do things I didn't even think I was ready for. She always had my back, and she was kind and fair but had really high standards." Descriptions like these speak to that boss's character, empathy and genuine concern to help the employee help herself. And while you may not have had many great bosses throughout your career, there's nothing stopping you from becoming this type of influence on the people on your team right now.

Don't overthink this. "People don't typically describe their favorite boss by what [that boss does]; it's really much more about who they are. 'Beingness' trumps 'doingness' in the world of inspirational leadership, and this critical insight will help your leaders focus on themselves and their own professional and career development, which will in turn benefit their subordinates as well as your company," Kruse said.

It may be easy to simply write off the idea of inspirational leadership. You may reason that you work in a cutthroat industry in which people are out for themselves. And to a certain degree, this point may be valid.

But that doesn't mean it has to be your experience. Change your perspective and you'll change your perception. Look at the world through a different lens and, while the objective outcomes of your reality may not change, the way you experience those outcomes can change immensely.

"This doesn't mean sticking your head in the sand and refusing to recognize reality," said Robin Darmon, senior director of the career development center at the University of San Diego. "It does mean, however, that despite the supercompetitive nature of your industry or line of business, the challenges or disappointments with your own bosses throughout your career, or the constant pressure you face to produce greater volumes at faster speeds, you can shield your people from many of those complexities." 

You can reason that the buck stops with you. You can be the line of demarcation between the drama above you and what your team members get to experience under your leadership.

Change your mindset about who you are as a leader, motivator and talent developer. Make bringing out the best in each of your subordinates your goal—not to fix all their shortcomings but to harvest the best of the strengths they have to offer.

"You know intuitively that successful leadership focuses on building on strengths rather than shoring up weaknesses, so find new ways of bringing out those strengths and inspiring employee engagement," Darmon said. "Have fun. Consider lightening up just a bit. Understand that life is a gift, and for a significant portion of your lifetime, working with others will engage you, frustrate you, disappoint you, exhaust you, and fascinate and inspire you." 

Work will touch all those emotions through your various experiences. But nothing will stick with you more than the people you've helped, the careers you've nurtured, and the people along the way who thanked you for all you did to help them excel and become their best. That's why leadership is a profound gift that the workplace offers—because it enables you to touch lives and make the work world a better place.

Here's the secret about inspirational leadership: It's not the end that is most meaningful; it's your experiences along the way. Make the most of your career and work life through people, not despite them. Teach what you choose to learn. Encourage others to take healthy risks. Be there when they make mistakes, and offer support when they feel vulnerable. Understand that your employees' mistakes are likely not made deliberately, but when in doubt, err on the side of compassion. You can be the first domino in a chain of events that can change someone's life for the better.

So go ahead and reinvent yourself. The world's waiting to see—and receive—that gift of selfless leadership, personal and career development, and workplace wisdom that you're about to display.

Paul Falcone ( is vice president of HR at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif. Some of his best-selling books include 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire, 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees and 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews.


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