Companies & Industries

Wanted: Inspirational Leaders


Employees hunger for meaning. You don't need to be a CEO or department head to choose to bring out the best in your company team

When was the last time you were truly inspired by a leader? Now more than ever, employees are starving for a sense of feeling connected to a higher purpose than just meeting this month's sales and profit figures. An inspirational leader can really make the difference in improving the confidence of people, who will in turn enhance the organization's performance. During these rocky times you can truly differentiate your brand of leadership by choosing to be a leader who brings out the best in your people. This is the perfect time to bring more personal meaning to your team's work and inspire your department to shine, despite difficult business conditions. This effort doesn't cost your company money and will certainly lead to better long-term results. So how can you become an inspirational leader? First, realize that inspirational leadership is a fundamental shift in your state of mind. This is not a cheerleading exercise but an effort to activate the inner passion of your people. Everyone has something within them that serves as a personal motivation for their own level of success and satisfaction. Leaders who can tap into that source of energy can unleash the full potential of individuals and teams. People want to feel like they are part of a movement, rather than merely cogs in a wheel. Whether they are in accounting, information systems, human resources, sales, or operations, people who understand the holistic goal of the organization can quickly see how their work is connected to the ultimate outcome. Leaders who can establish this type of emotional connection to goals are invaluable to the organization. Inspirational leaders surface during times of need. I remember a situation where my company was embarking on an aggressive annual fund-raising campaign for the United Way and my business unit identified an administrative assistant to act as our coordinator. She could have just gone through the motions, but instead created a series of themed events, personalizing the impact of every dollar that would be donated. She painted a compelling picture of the community's many social needs, led team rallies, and assumed personal accountability for the success of this important campaign. Through her leadership our business unit achieved 100% participation and won the Chairman's Cup for the entire corporation. Inspirational leadership should not be confined to high-powered executives. involve everyone, even quiet workers

What common cause have you created within your own area of responsibility? Have you set forth a dream goal for your organization to motivate your own team? Don't sell yourself short or believe that you need to be CEO to create an environment of highly engaged employees. All leaders have the potential to paint the big picture of success for their teams. Once your team has an inspirational vision, involve everyone in how you will achieve this picture of success. Invite your organization to contribute to strategies and action plans. This will not only gain their support, but will lead to a much sounder business plan for achieving the goal. Encourage full participation and ensure that all voices are heard. Traditionally there are a handful of people who are comfortable with being very outgoing and such individuals will clearly contribute. Yet the quietest people often have some of the most insightful suggestions. Inspirational leaders have the ability to bring out the best from all types of people. Remember, everyone is different. As the leader, you must be the one to adapt your style to produce the best results. Once the plan is in place, routinely review the progress and create a safe environment for people to present barriers, challenges, resource constraints, or whatever else may impede their execution, Inspirational leaders welcome such conversations as opportunities to support their teams and bring up solutions for consideration. They actively encourage their teams to raise issues sooner rather than later for group problem-solving and the taking of decisive action to alleviate these potential speed bumps. Track the progress in a public manner, whether through a posting board, regular messages, or town-hall-type meetings. celebration and recognition

People need to understand how they are doing. They are capable of hearing where things are on-track and where they may be off-track. Visibility is very important because once people are inspired toward a common goal, they will want to be informed about progress. Inspirational leaders know how important personal appreciation and recognition is to maintaining a motivated work force. Small celebrations when key milestones are achieved allow the team to catch its breath for a minute, reflect on the journey, and correct the course where necessary. These celebrations allow leaders to not only acknowledge the people who have crossed another great hurdle, but to share best practices so others may benefit from the learning along the way. Leaders who motivate teams also know how to deal with setbacks. They use such situations to show visible support for team members who may have taken a large risk and fallen a bit short. Highly skilled leaders use setbacks for key teaching moments so as to minimize future shortcomings. Inspirational leaders are in great demand today because they are able to galvanize individuals into high-performing teams. They can turn a distasteful exercise such as cost cutting into a team conquest in which more effective ways of getting work done are identified. You can build a personal brand identity as an inspirational leader by embracing the mindset that you will be the one who brings out the best in your people. You will be successful because you are able to take the disparate actions of many and create a common cause greater than the sum of the parts. People within your organization will benefit from this style and approach. Most important, you will be creating a culture committed to developing people who will accelerate the performance of your organization. Choose to be an inspirational leader and convert work into purpose.

Jerry S.Wilson is senior vice-president of the Coca-Cola Co., where he serves as chief customer and commercial officer. He is a personal branding expert and co-author of Managing Brand YOU: 7 Steps to Creating Your Most Successful Self.

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