Inspirational Leadership: A Force for Good?

Over the last 35 years, many aspects of the working world have been transformed. As the world of work has evolved and become more sophisticated, so have the skills and attributes we look for in our figureheads. Norman Broadbent’s Nick Behan, describes this shift as the difference between “The skills of management and the art of Leadership”, pointing out that “They stand for very different things”.

In the 20th century most teams, departments, and organisations were headed by ‘Managers’. Their role was to ensure the work got done, and stylistically they relied on a very hierarchical structure to achieve this. They led their people through managing a process, and command/control underpinned most organisational cultures. Under this regime, employees lacked autonomy and the secret of success was to “Keep your head down and do what you are told”.

More recently, as a better understanding around the links between employee engagement and output have evolved, so has the role of the Manager, metamorphosing into the Leaders of today. A Leader builds engagement with their team, defining together a collective purpose and vision for success, delivering results not through managing the process, but through empowerment. They ensure that their employees actively help shape not just what needs to be done and how, but are fully engaged with the ‘why’. A Leader inspires followship, and in return trusts that the results will follow.

This shift has come sharply into focus over the last eighteen months as huge swathes of the workforce switched to remote working. Many with a manager-mindset – individually and organisationally – struggled to adapt to their new environment.  Leaders, on the other hand, continued to lead as they always had by utilising a blend of attributes, skills, and tools to deliver beyond what was expected.

In challenging times such as now, Inspirational Leadership is one of those attributes often called for. But Nick is wary of the term. “For many people, the idea of an ‘inspirational leader’ is seen as one standing tall, front, and centre, leading the charge. But while it is true that a characteristic of successful leaders is to be able to inspire, inspiration is just part of the toolkit they use.” Typically boasting a high EQ, ‘inspiring leaders’ create strong emotional bonds, utilising their natural empathy and communication skills to understand and connect with individuals at a much deeper level. Leaders also understand that inspiration can be a heady draught and should be used sparingly. But it can also be dangerous. “The extreme of inspiration is fanaticism, and history is littered with Leaders who abused the trust of their followers, taking advantage of their devotion and literally leading them off of a cliff edge.” Translated into the working world this means Leaders understanding there are limits to their people’s capacity during the recent pandemic (being alert to the dangers of increased pressure on employee wellbeing is just one example).

Authenticity is another hallmark of the Inspirational Leader. It is authenticity and alignment to a common purpose which creates a powerful bond between individuals and can deliver extraordinary results. This exerts a force beyond that which a traditional management mindset/culture and mission/vision statements etc can achieve. In this way – by building together a common purpose – the Leader wins the hearts and minds of their people, tapping into their emotions creating belief and a shared ambition.

The last eighteen months has confirmed again what our experience and the studies show – that where there is a strong sense of both common purpose and a culture of leadership, extraordinary things happen. The successful vaccine rollout programme in the UK is a classic case study and example.

With many predicting hybrid working is here to stay and with other consequences of the pandemic just beginning to be felt, having a strong leadership ethos and culture will be vital to organisations looking to generate sustainable success.

If you would like to confidentially discuss how Norman Broadbent Group could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please contact Nick Behan on +44 (0) 0207 484 0106 or via nick.behan@normanbroadbent.com