Three Inspirational Leadership Qualities and How to Develop Them
B. Kim Barnes
A recent Gartner study concluded that there were three qualities that characterized especially effective leaders – qualities that only one in four respondents reported were true of their managers. The three qualities are:
- Authenticity; leaders were open about their thoughts and feelings
- Empathy; leaders were tuned in to and interested in the experience, needs, and interests of those who report to them
- Adaptability; leaders were flexible in responding to those needs and interests.
Leaders with these qualities, the report states, contributed to better engagement, performance, and retention of their team members.
The three qualities are, of course, related. If you are not attuned to your own inner concerns and needs, it’s not likely that you will be skillful in understanding how others think and feel. If you as a leader are not willing to share them appropriately, it’s more difficult for others to open up and therefore more difficult for you to empathize. If you are not willing and able to empathize, it’s likely that you will not be aware of what others need so that you can respond to them in a personalized and flexible way.
Perhaps some leaders are born with these qualities – and some have the good fortune to see them modeled by leaders they have known. But many people who have gained leadership through their success as contributors or a career path set out by their organizations – don’t come equipped with these characteristics. So how can they gain them?
In our Inspirational Leadership* program, we begin by having participants reflect on leaders who inspired them. We share a set of characteristics that are typical of inspirational leaders (including the three discussed above – empathy, authenticity (coded as openness in our model), and adaptability) as well as the behavioral skills that enable them to act on those characteristics.
Leaders chart their personal vision, mission, and values and reflect on how these stimulated and enabled their own leadership journey. Later, they practice the inspiring, engaging, trust-building and commitment-sustaining skills that they need to draw others out, empathize with them, and energize them to achieve great things. They choose how to respond to their team members in a way that is both personal and inspirational.
Over the years that we have provided this program to our clients, we have found that these “inspirational leadership skills” help to strengthen the qualities that leaders need to inspire trust and respect and in turn, to create an environment in which their team members thrive.
These qualities and characteristics can be continually developed through “acting as if” one already has them by learning and using the skills that inspirational leaders display. This approach, pioneered by Alfred Adler and reinforced by research, operates on the premise that using learned behaviors can lead to changes in a person’s attitude, mood, and approach to life. In other words, change can happen from the outside in.
Having leaders who have and/or continue to develop these skills and thus display the characteristics of authenticity, empathy, and flexibility are essential for organizations that intend to retain their best employees and ensure engagement.