Business Leadership Today

How Leaders Inspire and Influence Others

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John Spence, Contributor

Why do inspiring and influential leaders matter so much to an organization? The answer lies in their transformative impact. 

These leaders are not just figureheads; they are the catalysts that spark passion, drive innovation, and foster a culture of success. They are the architects of a thriving, dynamic environment where every team member feels valued and motivated.

I’ve worked with these sorts of leaders, and they all share similar traits.

Leaders inspire and influence others by being authentic, envisioning a compelling future, and building trust. They forge deep connections, demonstrate empathy, and lead by example. They see leadership not as a job or a title but as a craft. And like any craft, you can improve your skills through focused effort.

This article will delve into the essence of inspirational leadership, exploring the traits and behaviors that set these leaders apart. We will look at how these leaders inspire and influence their teams, and how their approach to leadership can transform an organization.

Authenticity

Authentic leaders are true to themselves. They’re honest and transparent. In my research of more than 10,000 high-potential employees, courage was one of the main things they looked for in their leader. 

Yes, the courage to make big, bold bets and difficult decisions. But also the courage to be vulnerable and authentic.

Consider Satya Nadella at Microsoft, who revamped the company’s ethos by sharing his personal experiences. One of the most significant challenges is his experience as a parent to a son with special needs. Nadella’s son, Zain, was born with cerebral palsy. 

This situation profoundly affected Nadella and his approach to life and work. This personal experience has influenced his empathy, understanding, and commitment to accessibility and inclusion, both in his personal life and in the corporate culture at Microsoft.

Authentic leaders win hearts by being open about their paths, including setbacks and growth.

Vision

The Harvard Business School’s “Evergreen Project” presents a strategic formula known as the “4+2 formula” for business success. This formula identifies four primary and two of four secondary management practices that are key to organizational effectiveness. 

The first and foremost primary practice is having a vivid, compelling, and well-communicated vision.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, epitomized visionary leadership, profoundly shaping the future of technology and consumer electronics. His foresight in envisioning products like the iPhone and iPad revolutionized how we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves. 

Jobs famously motivated his team with ambitious goals, encapsulated in his statement that they were at Apple “to put a dent in the universe.” This bold vision created an incredibly loyal and motivated workforce driven to innovate and push boundaries.

Visionary leaders don’t just lead organizations; they transform them.

Empathy and Connection

The significance of empathetic leadership in today’s business world cannot be overstated. Daniel Goleman’s pioneering work on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has underscored EQ as an indispensable skill for effective leadership. 

Leaders with high EQ, characterized by deep empathy and understanding, profoundly influence their teams. They inspire and cultivate a workplace environment rooted in trust and respect.

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, exemplifies this empathetic leadership style. Her approach to leadership, marked by genuine concern and connectedness with her workforce, has been pivotal in fostering a culture of inclusivity and openness at General Motors. 

Barra’s ability to understand and respond to her employees’ needs and perspectives has enhanced team morale and driven innovation and loyalty within the company.

Leaders with high EQ don’t just manage teams; they nurture the human spirit, unlocking a higher plane of performance and collaboration.

Leading by Example

Anne Mulcahy’s tenure at Xerox is a powerful testament to the principle that a leader’s actions profoundly impact an organization’s success. 

When Mulcahy took the helm at Xerox, the company was in the throes of a financial crisis. Her approach to this challenge was a definitive example of leadership by example. 

She didn’t just direct from a distance but immersed herself in the company’s operations, demonstrating the work ethic, commitment, and values she expected from every employee.

Mulcahy believed in being on the front lines with her team, showcasing a level of involvement and dedication that resonated deeply within the organization. She often visited employees, from factory floors to office cubicles, engaging with them directly to understand their challenges and perspectives. 

This hands-on approach garnered respect and loyalty from her team and fostered a culture of transparency and accountability. Under Mulcahy’s leadership, Xerox underwent a remarkable turnaround, with her actions setting a tone of resilience, adaptability, and collective effort. 

She became a role model for effective leadership, demonstrating that when leaders embody the standards they set for their team, it can lead to extraordinary organizational achievements and a legacy of enduring influence.

Leaders understand that people judge you by your actions, not your intentions.

Empowerment and Trust

The leadership style of Richard Branson of the Virgin Group exemplifies the profound impact of empowering one’s team. 

Branson’s approach to leadership is rooted in trust and the belief in the capabilities of his team members. By entrusting them with significant responsibilities and the autonomy to make decisions, he cultivates an environment where innovation and self-reliance flourish.

As Gallup research shows, this empowerment is a key driver of employee engagement and productivity. 

When team members feel empowered, they develop a deeper sense of commitment to their work. They are more likely to take initiative, think creatively, and go beyond the basic requirements of their roles. 

This is because empowerment gives employees a sense of ownership over their tasks and projects, making them feel more connected to the outcomes of their work.

Great leaders delegate to the point of discomfort and then beyond.

The Essence of Inspirational Leadership

The true measure of the insights we’ve explored about inspirational leadership lies not just in understanding them but also in their practical application. Leadership is not a destination, but a journey—a journey of continuous growth, learning, and adaptation.

As a leader, you are encouraged to embrace the courage of authenticity, allowing your true self to shine through in all your interactions. This authenticity fosters trust and respect among your team members.

Coupled with this is the clarity of vision. As a leader, you are the torchbearer, illuminating the path towards a compelling future. Your vision serves as a beacon, guiding your team towards shared goals.

Equally important is the depth of empathy. Understanding and acknowledging the feelings and perspectives of your team members not only fosters a supportive environment but also empowers them to perform at their best.

Lastly, leading by example is the cornerstone of influential leadership. Your actions speak louder than words, setting the tone for the culture and values of your organization.

To be a truly inspiring and influential leader, these traits must be woven into the fabric of your leadership approach. They are not just checkboxes to be ticked off but values to be lived and breathed every day.

With these traits at the heart of your leadership style, you are well on your way to becoming an inspirational leader.


John Spence is a keynote speaker, consultant, and executive coach, who was named by the American Management Association as one of America’s Top 50 Leaders to Watch along with Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.  He is the author of the acclaimed book on business excellence, Awesomely Simple.

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