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What Does It Require to be An Inspirational Team Leader?

The concept of being inspirational may feel overwhelming to some. You may associate being inspirational with icons of business like Richard Branson or monumental politicians such as Churchill or Kennedy.

But if you did the little exercise I invited you to do in the previous blog post—trying to identify team leaders who have been inspirational in your career⁠—I'm sure you came up with a few names, even if you have not been fortunate enough to work for someone similar to Branson. Team leaders with a lot less punch than Branson can still come across as hugely inspirational.

So, is the ability to be inspirational something we are born with or is it a learned skill? Maybe a bit of both. It is probably true that for some people, this comes more naturally than to others. But there is also lots of evidence that becoming more inspirational can be learned.

It begins with awareness. Awareness precedes change.

If you can identify the gap between your current skill level and the results you would like to see, then you have the best possible starting point for learning.

Now, looking at what it takes to become inspirational, you can start with the basics. Two things need to be in place for you to come across as inspirational, with followership happening as a consequence.

  1. You need to be present at the moment.
  2. You need to know where you want to go.

Yes, the first step is having a presence.

Only when you are fully present can you hope to be an inspiration to your team members. If you are distant, unfocused, distracted or frustrated, you miss the chance to connect with your team as their team leader. Likewise, you are undermining whatever trust there is between you and your team.

No trust, no followership. David Maister has written extensively on how you compute trust in others.

What now?

Try and observe yourself over the next few days as you interact with your team. At the end of the day, rewind the day and think about the encounters you had. Were you fully present? Presence is a bit like pregnancy, in that you cannot be somewhat present. Either you are there or you are not.

If you can identify situations when you were not fully there, ask yourself why. Was it caused by your mood or an external interference? Did you forget to reset your mind and body as you drifted from one meeting to the next? Was a part of you still arguing a point in a previous meeting as you started a new one? If you are unsure how to reset your mind and body to a more present state, check out The Centre for Embodied Wisdom. Their team does a great job teaching this stuff.

Once you have mastered being present, it’s time to get clear about where are you going. Sometimes, it's called the vision or mission of a company, but again that can become theoretical and highbrow. Instead, you might want to ask yourself, "What is my team trying to create?"

Think of yourself having a coaching conversation with me. How would you respond to this: If we were to have a conversation a year from now and you were to look back on the past year, what would have happened in your team for you to feel that you have made some real progress?

If you can answer that question, gather your team members and have a conversation with them about how they feel about your thoughts and what they think it is going to take from all of you to get there.

Now, you have taken the first important step to becoming much more of an inspiration to your followers. At the same time, this is also the first step to creating your Dream Team, which is the foundation of implementing the Service Profit Chain model.

Let me know how it works or if you have any clarifications.


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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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