“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams
The U.S. Air Force just installed its 21st Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein. He became the CEO-equivalent of the Air Force on the 1st of July. To me, he is one of the most inspirational leaders with whom I’ve ever had the privilege to work. His unblinking integrity, positive attitude, leadership by example and focus on his Airmen combine to create an environment that will move our organization forward over the next four years of his term in office.
We all have our own experiences with inspirational leadership. The teacher that inspired you to embrace learning in ways you never thought possible. The Army platoon leader that was always the first one into harm’s way and the last one to eat. The coach that pushed you beyond what you thought were your limits. A good leader can learn from the inspirational leaders in his or her past and strive to emulate them.
Are inspirational leaders born or made? Let’s assume for arguments sake that anyone can become an inspirational leader with the right focus…otherwise, I have nothing about which to blog! Whether you’re growing new leaders or working on your own leadership skills, here are a few key items on which to focus:
You must be trusted absolutely. The moment your integrity comes into question your ability to lead is destroyed. Difficult is the road to recovery when your integrity is questioned, even if the accusation turns out to be false. The mere hint of impropriety is enough to torpedo the trust of a team in its leader. As Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” A leader’s team will trust based not only on demonstrated performance but also on gut and intuition.
You must be perceived as always having your team’s best interests as your number one goal. This applies to the team as a whole and to each individual. I am a realist and admit those two goals sometimes are at odds with each other, but consistent performance over time is of the utmost importance. This trait ties closely with the first one; if there is no trust, your team will never believe you are putting its needs first. If the team trusts the leader and feels he or she is steering the team to success, it will follow unquestioningly and enthusiastically.
You must provide a vision to your team that transcends normal expectations. You must see not only that which is right in front of you but also that which an individual or an organization can become. This is the most important trait for an inspirational leader. Having the ability to create success by forging a path through uncharted waters can inspire men and women to achieve greater results than previously thought possible. The individual or the team may not be able to see the correct path to success. William Shakespeare said it well when he wrote, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” It takes the inspirational leader to guide us there.
A truly inspirational leader can lead not only an individual or a team, but teams of teams. Think of George Washington…the father of our country had a vision beyond the revolution and beyond his generation. Still to this day, over 240 years later, he inspires generation after generation to greatness. Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” I contend the same applies to inspirational leaders. Strive to achieve that lofty goal and your leadership will break beyond traditional boundaries.