5 Ways To Be A More Inspiring Leader

Your ability to be an incredible leader depends on your ability to be inspiring.

This is also the biggest skill leaders lack. So how do you do that?

The biggest mistake leaders make is thinking being inspiring is about telling an inspiring story. 

Yes and no. Let's dig into what actually generates being an inspiring leader.


70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – the same way we all rate ourselves as great drivers. 

But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. Ouch!

Add to that, the 2017 Edelman trust barometer shows that 63% of employees surveyed said CEOs are somewhat or not at all credible.

Another 2017 study from Harvard Business Review (HBR) says:

  • Half of the respondents said they agree that their leaders are NOT inspiring, keeping motivation locked inside employees
  • Even fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement or commitment, nor modeled the culture and values of the organization

OK -- the gap can't be explained away except to say that leaders' perception of themselves as being inspiring is totally out of whack with reality. And yes, this means you dear leader.

What contributes to these miserable stats? According to the research, it's because employees feel a sense of injustice, a lack of hope, lack of confidence, and an unsatisfied desire for change.



Anyone can become an inspiring leader! It's just not confined to telling inspiring stories. Instead it's great stories connected to others fundamental actions that leads to others experiencing you as inspiring.

Here are the 5 ways to make it happen:

1. Ideas that catch fire are shared through a story

According to Carmen Gallo who has studied TED speakers, inspiring leaders across a wide variety of fields have mastered three keys of communication:

  • They’ve reframed their inner narrative. Are your stories keeping you stuck? Then reframe or retire them. Digging into your personal stories to see if they still fit who you are, what you are doing, and your vision for yourself is a powerful path to personal development and growth. You cannot inspire others with tired, worn out stories. You can't inspire others unless your stories continually inspire yourself.
  • They share stories of victory over adversity. Hey, telling a story about how hard it was to walk to school 3 miles and heavy snow is not enough. We want to know how you prevailed over that adversity and how that has shaped you. By doing so you challenge us to dream bigger, go the extra mile, and not give up. Because amazing riches are at the end.
  • They make stories 65% of your presentation to create empathy between them and their audience. Make it so.

2. Leaders cannot help others grow unless they are growing themselves

See above, and then figure out where you are with the 4 areas below. In the 2017 study cited in HBR, survey recipients were asked what inspired them about people in their organization. They gave a list of 33 traits in four areas:

  1. Developing inner resources -- stress tolerance (especially centeredness so they remain calm, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present), self-regard, and optimism
  2. Connecting with others -- vitality, humility, and empathy help leaders connect
  3. Setting the tone -- openness, unselfishness, and responsibility help set the tone. Living by example is essential. Looking beyond your own self-interest is critical. A high level of integrity is vital.
  4. Leading the team -- vision, focus, servant leadership, and backing/supporting others to help them lead

Here’s even better news from the study: you only need ONE of these four attributes to double your chances of being an inspiring leader. In the end, it’s all about finding your unique style.

On the flip side of the coin, keeping everyone in the company intellectually engaged where they continually learn and grow is just as important.

  • Are you empowering staff to make decisions and to have a say in the company, their department, and their role?
  • Are you offering significant learning opportunities for them to stretch and grow personally and professionally?

3. Create Connections

Creating relationships is essential and that means two-way communication. Employees who feel heard and valued much more invested in the company and interested in pursuing larger organizational goals. This means deeply listening and strategically asking questions instead of giving orders. These interactions go beyond the mandatory meetings. Leaders who seek connection with their staff in smaller, more regular ways are able to build trust and a sense of shared service. Never forget that it’s the individualized communication that creates the right environment for inspiring leadership.

Relationships also place a value on social connections. The way we have de-prioritized face-to-face human relationships and prioritized technology are having a negative impact on human health and society at large, resulting in isolation and loneliness. Today we take meaningful human interaction and digitize it. We mistakenly think it's the same as being face-to-face. But it's not the same.

The best technique to use to build relationships is story sharing. Story sharing is not only listening to the stories of others but telling your story as well. When you engage in story sharing, barriers between people break down. This deepens the experience of the connection. And it slowly dissolves fear, opening others to share back.

4. Help them find meaning in their work

Instead of trying to coax or coerce employees, help them find the significance of the work they're doing. Existing research shows that meaningfulness in our work can improve performance, commitment, and job satisfaction. Meaningfulness occurs when people have an opportunity to reflect on their completed work, then make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning. Inspiring leaders foster these kinds of reflective conversations on a regular basis.

The kinds of reflective conversations leaders have are where:

  • People can see/are shown the positive impact they have on others.
  • They recall a work moment or experience that was meaningful and why.
  • They connect work to their personal lives.

5. Give employees a voice

Are you encouraging employees to have a voice? That means giving leaders feedback without fear of negative consequences. The next critical step is leaders acting on those insights from employees.

Harm occurs when the leader asks for feedback and then does nothing to change. Or when they punish the messenger. When leaders do nothing, they discount the feedback, invaliding the employee’s experience and their desire to create a more positive outcome. For staff, this leads to a loss of feeling they belong, of mattering, and possibly safety. Not responding may have them feeling invisible and powerless. This creates a rampant fear-based culture.

In addition, you willingly share the amazing work others do. You create spaces for people to willingly share their stories.

All of these 5 bullet points generate a sense of safety, belonging and mattering.

Safety + belonging + mattering = being inspiring

See, it's not all about storytelling. Using storytelling in all 5 areas above, however, will accelerate results.

An inspiring leader means you've created a culture where trust, true connection, respect, communication, collaboration, transparency, alignment, enrollment, and engagement thrive.

Go for it!