Are You an In­spir­ing Leader?

Re­search from Bain & Com­pany has un­veiled 32 char­ac­ter­is­tics of in­spir­ing lead­ers. The good news: You only need to pos­sess four of them to be con­sid­ered in­spir­ing.

Rotman Management Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Mark Hor­witch and Mered­ith Whip­ple Cal­la­han

New re­search un­veils 32 char­ac­ter­is­tics of in­spir­ing lead­ers. The good news: You only need to pos­sess four of them to be con­sid­ered in­spir­ing.

WHAT MAKES A LEADER IN­SPIR­ING? Ac­cord­ing to re­search we re­cent- ly con­ducted with the Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit, com­pa­nies that can answer this ques­tion have a pow­er­ful tool to in­crease their com­pet­i­tive edge. We found that in­spired em­ploy­ees are more than twice as pro­duc­tive as sat­is­fied em­ploy­ees.

The power of a com­pany with lead­ers who in­spire at ev­ery level up and down the or­ga­ni­za­tion is hard to over­state. These are the com­pa­nies that con­sis­tently pull off in­no­va­tive or heroic feats in busi­ness be­cause so many of the peo­ple who work there are mo­ti­vated to make them hap­pen. Com­pa­nies spend bil­lions of dol­lars on lead­er­ship train­ing to re­in­force and en­hance the soft skills that in­spire, mo­ti­vate and cre­ate en­gage­ment, but most have found that it is de­cep­tively hard to do these things.

Few rig­or­ous meth­ods ex­ist to mea­sure some­one’s abil­ity to in­spire, to sys­tem­at­i­cally de­velop that in­tan­gi­ble qual­ity or to em­bed those skills through­out an or­ga­ni­za­tion. As Bar­bara Keller­man, found­ing ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Pub­lic Lead­er­ship at the Har­vard Kennedy School, has ob­served: “Lead­er­ship as an area of in­tel­lec­tual in­quiry re­mains thin, and lit­tle orig­i­nal thought has been given to what leader learn­ing in the sec­ond decade of the 21st cen­tury should look like.”

What does it take to fos­ter in­spir­ing lead­ers, not just through a lucky ac­ci­dent of tal­ent man­age­ment but year in and year out? To help answer that ques­tion, we have been con­duct­ing com­pre­hen­sive re­search since 2013, us­ing se­lect clients as a test bed. Specif­i­cally, we de­signed an an­a­lyt­i­cal ap­proach to de­fine, mea­sure and de­velop in­spi­ra­tional skills. Three key ques­tions guided our re­search:

• What char­ac­ter­is­tics mat­ter most when it comes to in­spir­ing oth­ers?

• How many in­spir­ing be­hav­iours does some­one need to demon­strate re­li­ably in or­der to in­spire oth­ers, and what pat­tern of be­hav­iours is the most pow­er­ful?

• How can we cal­i­brate the strength of those char­ac­ter­is­tics in an in­di­vid­ual?

While in­spi­ra­tion may seem dif­fi­cult to de­ci­pher, we have iden­ti­fied 33 dis­tinct and tan­gi­ble at­tributes that are sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant in cre­at­ing in­spi­ra­tion in oth­ers. The good news: Hav­ing just four of these at­tributes as dis­tin­guish­ing strengths is suf­fi­cient to make some­one highly in­spir­ing. Our find­ings also demon­strate that peo­ple who in­spire are in­cred­i­bly di­verse, and that any com­bi­na­tion of dis­tin­guish­ing strengths can work. There is no fixed archetype of an in­spi­ra­tional leader.

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