A leader who truly inspires others in a substantive way, is admired and followed! But what is authentic and meaningful inspiration? In a recent spin class at my gym, the instructor asked half of the room to inspire the other half while they were killing it on the bikes. 90% of the “inspiration” comprised of falsetto “Whoa’s”. Is that the best we can do? As leaders, that certainly wouldn’t pass the test!
Inspiration doesn’t translate as charisma in the effervescent sort of way, although it could be said that it is a “gift” (as per the meaning of the Greek word charisma)! Just because someone is extroverted, eloquent and excited, doesn’t necessarily make them inspirational. Neither is someone who is knowledgeable, profound and impressive. And lastly, someone who is assertive, self-assured and innovative, doesn’t pass the test either. But the interesting thing is that any of these characteristics can be defined by some people as inspirational. And any of these characteristics can be the reason for some people to follow a leader. So is inspiration subjective?
Yes, there is a degree of subjectivity to inspiration. Everyone has different backgrounds (ethnic, social, etc.), values and aspirations – that’s what adds color to our world! And because of these things, we admire and respect different sorts of people more than others. We are influenced by our politics, race, gender, religion, allegiances and preferences as well as many other variables. But is there an expression of inspirational leadership that can galvanize people across these differences? I believe there is.
Objectively evaluating inspirational leadership requires people to measure it with rational thought, emotional maturity and balanced judgment. I am talking about true inspiration, not momentary or situational inspiration. For me, true inspirational leadership is when a leader demonstrates that they have the character, judgement and the will to convince me that they are worth listening to, believing in and following.
Inspiration can be about painting a better picture of the future, it can be about building enthusiasm to leave the past, and it can be about transferring energy for people to lead themselves forwards. It is more than a compelling speech or a convincing statement. It is more than a passionate discourse or impressive insight. It is something that should engage the mind, soul and spirit. A truly inspirational leader is someone who has authenticity, gravitas and integrity.
So back to my spin class. How did I respond when asked to inspire my fellow riders? I shouted “Get in the red zone!” I did get some sideways looks from those shouting “Whoa”. But then I did think that I was adding more substance to my attempt at inspiration than just a non-descript scream. Maybe I was reacting to those around me and their version of inspiration. I’m not sure that I did much better. On reflection, when others were shouting their version of inspiration to me, I put my head down, pedaled like crazy, sweated like a hose, and hit the red zone! Maybe my inspiration was one of example and not words?