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How to Become a Leader Who Inspires

Written by: The Wiley Network / Tara Trubela
Published on: Mar 29, 2021

Leader Inspire
Image credit: /Shutterstock

Imagine you landed your dream job, but when you start doing the work you love, you quickly come to realize that your manager’s core values are not in line with your own. Despite having a good salary, work-life balance, and a spot on the company softball team, how long do you think you’d be happy in this role?

Several outside factors can contribute to a negative work environment, but the number one cause of unhappiness at work is having an ineffective boss. A “bad boss” can be someone who’s either too busy or doesn’t care to support the team, dumps an unreasonable amount of work onto others, or micro-manages to the point of sending a clear message that she doesn’t trust anyone other than herself to get the job done. And who wants to work for someone who doesn’t have faith in them? Luckily, on the flip-side, there are many highly effective leaders who are forward-thinking, energetic, uplifting, and in a word: inspiring.

What Separates an Ineffective Boss from a Motivational Leader?

According to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, bestselling authors of The Leadership Challenge, 90% of direct reports say they feel that their work truly matters when their leaders show them that long-term interests can be realized by a shared vision. Kouzes and Posner explain, “Leaders help people see that what they are doing is bigger than they are and bigger, even, than the business.” So how do Kouzes and Posner suggest we work toward this greater goal?

Appeal to Common Ideals

For one, a leader needs to create a vision that resonates with all employees, challenges them to imagine new possibilities, and aligns with their value system. When leaders weave this higher-order vision into the fabric of the corporate culture, employees feel as if they are helping other people through their work, and this sense of meaning is the impetus that causes them to go the extra mile.

In fact, studies involving participants in 40 different countries found that a purpose-driven career results in an increase in overall productivity and engagement at work. Kouzes and Posner’s data also reveals that leaders who are seen as frequently or almost always demonstrating how upholding a shared vision can help others achieve their aspirations are perceived 16 times more favorably than managers who rarely exhibit this type of leadership behavior.

Animate the Vision

Successful leaders need to bring their vision to life, and to do so, they must choose their words wisely. Language has the power to incite action, alter perceptions, and even raise public awareness, but you don’t have to possess the oratory prowess of Martin Luther King Jr. to motivate people. Start small by giving a specific task or team a name that invokes the type of behavior you want to be displayed. For example, if you want employees to act as a community, try using language like “common ground” or “home base” that evokes a feeling of togetherness.

Since the word “vision” has the verb “to see” at its root, consider supporting your ideas with pictures. Kouzes and Posner tell us, “For people to share a vision, they have to be able to see it in the mind’s eye.” This visual approach is similar to sharing vacation photos with a friend; the experience of looking through a photo album while listening to stories of another person’s travels is likely to increase the observer’s own desire to go on a trip.

Leaders are people who look on the bright side. Think about it: All of history’s “greats” have the uncanny ability to foster team spirit, promote optimism, and restore faith in others—even in bad times—all while taking positive strides towards the future.