What Makes an Inspiring Leader?

Alison Cox - Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Makes an Inspiring Leader?

Great leaders are made, not born.

New research from Bain & Company looked at the factors that make a leader inspirational. The findings – summarized in a Harvard Business Review article “How to Be an Inspiring Leader” – reinforce the need for leadership to cultivate a high-performance, high-fulfillment culture and to align individual behaviors to the overall vision.

The research found that the most inspiring leaders were those who leveraged their unique strengths to motivate through empowerment – they drove results not by demanding them, but by creating an environment where team members were accountable and had the flexibility to use their own individual strengths to do what needed to be done.


What do these findings tell us about how to become an inspirational leader?

  • Know yourself – identify and develop at least one inspiring trait you already have. In studying inspirational leaders, researchers identified 33 common traits – but they also found that there was no “correct” combination of traits necessary. Simply having one of the traits doubled an individual’s chances of being an inspiring leader.
  • Match your strength to the values of your organization. Researchers found that what made good leaders was not well-roundedness, but the opposite. They found that “spiky” leaders had unique strengths that aligned with their companies’ values and priorities. If your key traits are in conflict with the culture and values of your organization, you are unlikely to be viewed positively within the company.
  • Use the Change Continuum to your advantage. Another research finding was that inspirational leaders were able to “constructively disrupt established behaviors to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.” Great leaders are able to institute change. In order to lead a group, you must understand what motivates and deters change in individuals. (Read more about How to Use the Change Continuum to Your Advantage.)

The good news is here is that the research reinforces the fact that leaders can be developed through self-knowledge and coaching. It’s not too late to cultivate your own inspiring traits!

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