In times of great change, even chaos, people look for hope and inspiration from leadership. This is hope and inspiration that reaches to their core, their sense of purpose, their reason for working. On September 11th, 2001, when New York, the country, and much of the world was thrown into deep uncertainty and fear, CEO Ken Chenault of American Express, whose headquarters was at Ground Zero and was destroyed, modeled what true inspirational leadership is. He brought the entire company into Madison Square Garden for a day of remembrance and grieving, and to begin the healing process. He shared from his heart the pain he felt, his own grief, and his hopes for everyone in the future. He created a forum for his employees to do the same. Truly an inspiring leader.
We have each known leaders who have inspired us to be our best and to do the right thing. They may have been leaders in crisis like Chenault, Franklin Roosevelt, or Winston Churchill. Or they may have been leaders for a cause, such as Mandela, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. We may also have been inspired by the not-so-famous—a parent, teacher, or community leader. These are extraordinary people who show up during challenging times to give us hope and show us the way.
You can also be an inspirational leader, even when it is not a crisis. Here is what the research and experience tell us are at least 7 attributes. An inspirational leader:
- Comes From Love: They have a deep love for people, value each person and their humanity, and know that love rather than fear enables us to move forward
- Listens for a Deep-Seated Need: These leaders listen from a place of empathy for the deeper human need that may is often expressed in a complaint, concern, argument, or a position
- Understands the “Why”: They look for and understand the “why” behind the needs of their people. They know that all of us are challenged and need to be understood
- Is Vulnerable: The true mark of an inspirational leader is their ability to make themselves personally vulnerable to others—to share from their heart authentically. It levels the playing field and enables people to connect with that leader at a more fundamental level
- Uplifting Direction: Building on their empathy and understanding, these leaders provide a new perspective, a new direction, a new way to look at our circumstances, and give us hope for a brighter future
- Ensures Impact: They articulate a vision that has a lasting positive impact on people, and their actions then create it
- Gives Others the Credit: These leaders never take the credit for the accomplishments of others; it is given to those who do the work, take the risks, and achieve their goals
Everyone has the capacity to be an inspirational leader. It is a matter of our intention in life, our vision for how we want to work and be with others, and the legacy we wish to leave.
*Dr. Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an award-winning consultant and author, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC. You can contact him at: email@example.com or 919.265.9616