Everyone likes to think they’re a good leader, but what makes people follow them? And more importantly, what makes people want to follow them? This article from the Harvard Business Review points to one piece of the puzzle - great leaders are made, not born. So, if we know that inspiring leaders can be created, how do you that? How do you cultivate that potential in others? Their research suggests something that we’ve been advocating for a long time - you do that by actively developing the strengths they already have.
In the survey, they asked people what inspired them about their colleagues. They found that people who inspire are incredibly diverse. They don’t fit into a single mold, but they do have some common traits like stress tolerance, optimism, humility, focus and above all: centeredness.
Their last point, and my favorite, is that inspirational leaders are not well-rounded, they are ‘spiky’. They find what they’re good at and excel at it. They don’t worry about the parts they’re not good at, they let someone else handle that. And they’re not afraid to cause some chaos, great leaders rock the boat.
To understand what makes a leader inspirational, Bain & Company launched a new research program, starting with a survey of 2,000 people. What we found surprised us. It turns out that inspiration alone is not enough. Just as leaders who deliver only performance may do so at a cost that the organization is unwilling to bear, those who focus only on inspiration may find that they motivate the troops but are undermined by mediocre outcomes. Instead, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control. Here are some of our additional findings about how leaders both inspire, and get, great performance: