Inspirational leadership is no dark art. But for a long time, it was believed to be just that.
Talk by Juliet Taylor, Gatenby Sanderson Partner and Head of Not for Profit
Great leaders present in many different forms. It’s true that effective leaders command respect rather than demanding it, but how do they do it? What are the qualities and characteristics that we observe in the very best?and Education Practices
Well, there are probably five. First, they say no and they never over-accommodate. They set high standards but these are offset by humility and perspective, meaning that they tend to inspire through their expectations, rather than belittle. They are natural diplomats, respecting people at all levels and avoiding confrontation and controversy. They operate with self-control (after all, they have nothing to prove). And they set clear boundaries – watch great leaders and, while it is rarely that visible, they will tend to retain a lot of space around them and will be very select in what they disclose about themselves.
But there is something else that underpins all of this: the very best leaders stay true to who they are. The route to the top is now no longer always through a particular profession. It’s no longer always achieved by treading a formulaic, linear path that suddenly delivers the top job. As the world around us all has continued to change and we have started to use so many new ways of communicating and projecting our image, the role of leaders in society has shifted fundamentally, and what it means to be a great leader with it.
One day, something very interesting happened that stopped me in my tracks. After 15 years as a headhunter, a woman I was interviewing for a Chief Executive role turned up at our office in cowboy boots, loud jewellery and leopard print tights. 10 years ago – even five – that would not have happened. And if it had, the decision to project that rather informal image in the pursuit of a CEO role would not have gone unnoticed. Our clients would have expected us – rightly or wrongly – to make a judgement, and the judgement probably would have been that the choice of workwear for the occasion was not appropriate. In some respects, personality used to be a no-go.
Actually, that interview will forever rank as one of the best I have ever been part of and the candidate went on to get the job – good on her. The point is this. She was right for that environment. She believed in the same things. She inspired through her vision and her passion. She commanded respect by listening and connecting. She had great personal influence. She had tough views, yes, but she delivered them in a non-critical way and she made no apology for them either. Above all, she stood by what she believed in on behalf of that organisation and backed it up with reason and common sense. She was utterly authentic.
That’s just a vignette. But the rules of the game are changing. Of course there are prerequisite experiences needed for senior roles. Of course our outlook and background needs to be right for that environment. And of course what is professional in one setting may not work in another. But the difference between someone who occupies a senior role, and someone who is a truly inspirational leader is increasingly about how they own the impact they have on others.
After all, remember the bosses you have worked for? Truth is, you probably won’t remember them for what they knew, but you will almost certainly remember the way they made you feel about your role, your value and your pride in the organisation.