What makes a leader who inspires action?


Growing up as a competitive athlete, I had my fair share of good and bad coaches. I often found that a coach’s leadership capabilities were reflected in the team’s success. However, I never stopped to consider what qualities inspired action.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

This is the resounding message in leadership expert Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” I buy it. Ultimately, the idea or product itself often has very little to do with why any leader, past or present, has generated a mass following. To me, being a great leader takes more than just selling an idea, this is merely a foundation on which to build strong leadership skills. There are several other qualities I consider essential for inspiring action.

1. The Ability to Create Loyalty

In his talk, Sinek describes how the goal of any leader should be to establish relationships with people who believe in the same ideas and goals. Just as important, however, is maintaining and growing those relationships in order to develop trust. In addition, the best companies, teams and organizations have a low rate of turnover because their leaders have the ability to instill loyalty.

In The Philosophy of Loyalty, the late Harvard professor Josiah Royce explains how loyalty is created by making a cause personal, at least in part, to those working towards its achievement. Leaders who are committed to long-term success and have earned the trust of those whom they are guiding are better able to inspire action.

2. Knowing One’s Talent

Leaders who foster success are aware of the individual strengths and weaknesses that each team member brings to the table. He or she knows how to guide each individual to the highest level of performance. This, in turn, helps to maximize the overall benefit each team player provides to the greater group. This type of leader recognizes that the same approach that inspires action from some people may not motivate others. Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball, is one of the best examples of an effective leader who understands this concept. In a 2011 interview, this coach described how he adjusts his system year-by-year to cater to the new players on his roster. He focuses on leveraging each individual player’s strengths, and his results speak for themselves.

3. Communicating Effectively

Without effective communication tactics, aspiring leaders will be hard-pressed to inspire action in others. Sinek encourages leaders to take a communications approach that begins with defining the ‘why’ behind an idea. He calls this an inside-out approach; most people who are trying to sell an idea begin with ‘what,’ and by the time they’ve gotten to the ‘why,’ they’ve lost their audience. Sinek points to companies like Apple as good examples of leaders who communicate effectively. A key differentiator between Apple and its competitors is that they don’t simply sell computers, (the ‘what’) they sell their passion for striving to be the most innovative technology company in the world (the ‘why’).

By communicating the ideas behind a product, leaders inspire their teams to care about what they are doing, rather than merely compelling them to go through the motions in order to complete a task. Leaders who effectively communicate the “whys” underlying what drives their organization on a daily basis evoke emotion, inspiring their people to take action and reach higher goals.

Are there any leadership competencies that you find to be successful?

Photo credit: Webcentrick, Flickr.

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Email: Laura@blissintegrated.com
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