“The Inspiring Leader” — How to Motive and Inspire

In The Inspiring Leader Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Motivate by John Zenger, Joseph Folkman and Schott Edinger, the authors focus on one leadership competency — “inspires and motivates to high performance” — because their research showed it to be the most powerful predictor of someone being seen as an extraordinary leader and because it is the first choice among subordinates in what they wanted to have in a leader.  In the first part of the book, the authors summarize their research, explain the objects for leaders, and describe general characteristics of an inspirational leader.  The heart of the book presents what leaders do to inspire those around them.  This is the best part of the book because it provides actionable steps that anyone can put into action.  The following are some of the key points that I took.

1.  Use emotion — emotions are contagious.

  1. Be aware of your own emotions and limit your interactions with others on bad days
  2. Be aware of the emotions of those around you
  3. Express your positive emotions with facial expressions and body language
  4. Use dramatic unconventional behavior
  5. Physically act the part — look people in the eye, stand up straight, relax, and smile.
  6. Help those who work with you to be happy
  7. Improve your public speaking skills — vary the pace and pitch of your voice, use pauses and look at people, use hand gesture, and tell stories

2.  Set stretch goals

  1. Review assignments and ask “Are these assignments challenging?”
  2. Believe your team is capable of producing at a higher level
  3. Involve the team in raising the bar
  4. Goals should be lofty but reasonable
  5. Stick to goals until they are achieved
  6. Compare your team’s results to other organizations
  7. Celebrate and reward

3. Create vision and direction

  1. Involve others in creating a vision
  2. Ensure the vision is clear, compelling, concrete, succinct, engaging and visceral
  3. Link the vision to each team and individual
  4. Consistently and continually communicate the vision

4.  Communicate powerfully

  1. Seek opportunities to communicate
  2. Expand the frequency and volume
  3. Go for the big issues
  4. Keep it positive — ratio of 5:1 in the highest performing teams
  5. Ask more questions; give fewer orders
  6. Share the spotlight
  7. Step into the listeners’ shoes
  8. Use multiple communication techniques and opportunities
  9. Tell relevant stories
  10. Keep the pace brisk
  11. Communicate passion and enthusiasm

5.  Develop people

  1. Coach others
  2. Provide actionable feedback
  3. Delegate
  4. Structure jobs with development as the objective

6.  Collaborate and be a team player

  1. Minimize competition: collaboration always wins over competition
  2. Reward team effort and accomplishment
  3. Dismantle silos
  4. Resolve conflicts quickly
  5. Involve the right people in decision-making
  6. Create an inclusive environment

7.  Foster Innovation

  1. Create a dynamic culture and environment
  2. Make a hobby of trend spotting
  3. Visit customers
  4. Communicate an expectation for innovation
  5. Expect senior leaders to propose bold initiatives
  6. Remove barriers
  7. Open the door to suggestions

The authors provide explanations, present their research and provide specific examples of leaders who implement these steps.  I strongly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to improve their ability to inspire and motivate others.


  • Nathan S. Gibson

    Nathan S. Gibson is an independent worker compliance business partner who provides expertise and creative solutions to enhance workforce flexibility and maintain compliance. He helps mitigate the risks associated with the misclassification of self-employed consultants, freelancers and independent contractors.

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