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What Makes a Great Leader? Inspired Leadership


17 October 2017

“The leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they will fail you. But of a good leader who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did it ourselves!’"                               -Lao Tzu

There are an abundance of articles and perspectives about what makes a "great leader" both in qualities and action. Partially because not all situations require the same leadership style and leadership is often seen as more art than science.

In our experience however, there are some fundamental qualities that define leaders who sustain a high level of preformance over time while caring for the wellbeing of themselves and those around them. 

These inspired leaders not only pursue their own visions with passion and compassion - they also inspire others to become their own leaders. An inspired leader teaches by example, acting out of their own integrity and "walking the talk" - rather than lecturing others on how they ought to be.

By this definition, we view leadership as "living everywhere" in an organization - meaning not only at work, but as a parent, partner, teacher, family member, and thoughtful human. As our friend and mentor Richard Strozzi-Heckler talks about in his book The Leaderhsip Dojo, great leaders start by looking inward and "leading themselves" first.

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What is an Inspired Leader?

The wise leader is aware that they do not need to know everything, but can rely on the group's competencies. They do not insist that things come out a certain way, but honor the team's shared purpose which creates more value. Inspired Leaders know that constant interventions will block a group's development and potential for success. 

The wise leader speaks simply and honestly and intervenes only to shed light and create harmony (the cycle of leadership - described in our white paper - can support engaging others in the process of getting to effective action).

A thoughtful leader knows their role is to expand awareness, facilitate process and clarify conflict. The leader does not try to protect people from themselves, but responds in a truthful and straightforward manner.

They pay respectful attention to all behaviors mediating emotional issues without taking sides or picking favorites. One of the leaders most important roles is to care for the emotional tone of a team.

They listen with intention and a sincere care for others' purposes and concerns. Thus, the group becomes open to more authentic behavior.

A conscious leader cultivates awareness and pays attention with an open mind, looking beyond his/her personal prejudices and biases for the most valuable interpretation of the facts and the most powerful response to them.

Inspired leadership does not come from technique, but from the ability to pay attention, to be aware (both internally and externally) and to be present for others.

With awareness, the inspired leader can act from his/her center, knowing that effective action arises out of a clear sense of intention. They move with grace and agility and are able to negotiate complex situations effortlessly. Conscious leaders are flexible and maintain their balance, even in the midst of action.

Enlightened leadership is service, not selfishness. The leader grows more and lasts longer by placing the wellbeing of all above the wellbeing of self alone. To give encouragement, to be compassionate, to show interest, to meet fear, to build self-confidence and awaken hope in the hearts and minds of others is to render the most precious service. This is authentic and inspired leadership.

Embracing Our Own Leadership Potential

One of the greatest challenges we all face is the understanding and embracing of our own leadership potential.  Even the mostly highly paid executives struggle with internal questions about personal effectiveness as leaders.  This is normal.  Our attitudes, outcomes, beliefs, prejudices, fears, hopes, glories and broken places have led us all to practices that others celebrate or question, that we ourselves celebrate or question.

At the same time, we’re all leaders in some capacity or another.  It doesn’t matter if we have the title or not.  And, there is a profound difference between having the title and being the kind of leader to whom people are drawn to and to whom people commit to and trust at a deep level.  The former are just titleholders, while the latter are true leaders.

Inspired leaders are the kind of people who engage, move and inspire others whenever they are present.

How do we become inspired leaders?

From our perspective, true leaders are not born that way; crossing the bold line between holding a title and true leadership takes courage and work. It requires that we hone our faith in others and in ourselves.  Not blind faith, but rather faith that comes from paying attention, and being present with full exposure.

We could talk about practices all day, but where they live is out there in the marketplace, in the hallways, offices, meeting rooms, and living rooms. This is a good time to remember that like attracts like. When we embrace higher practices, we are soon surrounded by higher practices.  When we indulge in inferior practices, we can expect to produce inferior results.

Replacing practices is a challenge, and that’s the point! 

From this perspective, inspired leaders spend more time looking and listening than they do talking and selling, more time laughing than frowning, and more time delighting one another than irritating one another. They embrace change rather than cling to old ways, under the delusion that motion and direction are the same thing.

They make connections, at a deep level.  Create them every day, on purpose.  They make more and more of them. Connect the people in our homes and businesses and cities and countries, so that we and our children and our colleagues and customers breathe connection in and out like oxygen.

Many would say it’s the day-to-day grinding it out that moves the dial, the ruthless execution rallying people around results like stock prices, quarterly revenues, profits and losses.

Is this your path? Do you buy into that prescription? What’s your game plan for success?

"The essence of leadership is not giving things, or even providing visions. It is offering oneself and one’s spirit."


Check out the Fully Effective Executive Assessment to raise awareness of opportunities for inspired leadership

Download Effective  Executive Assessment


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