The 18 Characteristics of Inspirational Leaders

Characteristics of Inspirational Leaders

Laura Holton

Laura is a professional writer specializing in content aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has helped countless startups find the information they needed to take their ventures to the next level.

All businesses need leaders, but very few of those leaders have the ability to inspire others to consistently strive to do their best and achieve greatness. However, it’s these types of leaders who build companies that become among the most successful in their industries.

The problem is that a job title alone doesn’t lead to inspiration: you need to have the right personal qualities. So, what are the characteristics of an inspirational person?

1. Positivity

When times get tough, an inspirational leader is there to provide the team with optimism. Such leaders see the positive side to every problem and consider mistakes an opportunity to learn. Inspirational leadership means imparting this positivity on your team and staying committed in the face of any difficulty.

2. Deeply-Held Beliefs

One reason why inspirational leaders are able to keep going through anything is their deeply-held beliefs. Others can relate to these beliefs and find inspiration in the shared goal. After all, it’s much easier to find motivation in beliefs than in simply the need to finish a project by a deadline.

Beliefs often manifest themselves as a vision for the future. Inspirational leaders know how they would like the world to be and every action brings them closer to this ultimate goal. They show others how to carry on their work after they’ve gone.

3. Courage or Fearlessness

Although they may sound similar, courage and fearlessness are actually two different qualities. Courage refers to pushing aside fear to tackle a problem, whereas fearlessness means not being afraid to begin with. Both of these are common in inspirational leadership because they are infectious. They show that it is possible to face challenges head on and come out stronger.

4. Integrity

Employees need to be able to trust that their business leaders are being honest with them. The only way this is possible is if leaders are also honest with customers and everyone else. At times, this will mean delivering hard truths — but, ultimately, it’s always the best course of action.

However, honesty is just one element of integrity: you also need to be consistent. Messages from influential leaders are clear and never change.

5. Foresight

Once you’ve reached a position of leadership, your struggle is far from over. In fact, life is just about to become much harder. People look to their leaders for guidance when things don’t go to plan. Through foresight, influential leaders are able to prevent problems from becoming disasters — or even stop a problem occurring in the first place.

A great example of a leader with foresight is Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce. His approach to business is to constantly predict what will happen next and then have the flexibility to evolve in the face of these changes.

6. Grit

Influential leaders never stop working hard. They are willing to push through, even when a task seems impossible or when others say they’ll never make it. Their drive to win is insatiable. Then, as soon as they’ve achieved their objective, they’re on to the next one.

A great thing about grit is that it’s measurable. Once you know how you compare to the average person in terms of perseverance, you can figure out what steps you need to take to improve your grit.

7. Humility

Everyone needs support to achieve their goals. Inspirational leaders know that their teams are just as important to them as they are to their teams. Rather than seeing themselves in a position of power, inspirational leaders are grateful for the opportunity to work with others and to benefit from a wide range of skills — many of which they do not possess.

Humility in leaders serves as a reminder that everyone has something unique to bring to the table. It helps employees realize that they need to appreciate all of their coworkers.

8. Actions Over Words

Anyone can talk about achieving world-changing goals. Few people actually make any progress. Influential leaders are always more focused on action than words. Every time they make a promise, they follow through with the necessary action. Often, this means committing to doing better for a customer or for the company as a whole. There are few things more inspiring than seeing leaders deliver on their promises.

9. Gratitude

When employees are carrying out the same tasks day after day or they contribute a small part to a larger product, it’s easy for the individual’s efforts to become diminished. Inspirational leaders never let anyone go forgotten. They acknowledge even small successes, show appreciation, and give personalized feedback. As a result, the team develops a stronger bond and employees are more likely to stay at the company.

10. Active Listening

There’s a misconception that leaders are there to give instructions. On many occasions, it is actually far more important to listen than to speak. Inspirational leaders make sure everyone is aware that they are open to hearing suggestions, questions, and feedback. As a result, everyone on the team feels that they matter.

11. Respect and Inclusion

A key aspect of inspirational leadership is respect. It is impossible to be a good leader if you treat some people better than others or show favoritism. Besides, you need to give respect if you are to gain respect.

Respect doesn’t mean simply being tolerant and it certainly doesn’t mean forcing others to think like you or carry out activities in the way you prescribe to make you happy. Instead, it means allowing others to be who they are and embracing that.

Inspirational leaders even go one step further. They understand that all their team members are fighting their own battles and may need support even when it’s unclear why. They also know that the company is much more likely to see success if everyone on the team is given the chance to shine.

12. Selflessness

Top leaders are not driven by personal achievements. They take action because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Rather than delegating tasks to be able to go home sooner, they stick with the work until the end. Often, they pick up the work no one else wants to do.

Selflessness matters because it allows leaders to focus on the professional and personal growth of their team members. Inspirational leaders do everything in their power to help subordinates grow in their careers and become great leaders themselves.

13. Communication Skills

Communication is everything. Poor communication leads to mistakes — followed by frustrations when work needs to be redone. Influential leaders take the time to ensure their communication is clear and that everyone has understood. They neither over-communicate (think: hold far too many meetings) nor under-communication (for instance, send short, cryptic memos).

14. Focus

No one finds it easy to avoid distractions 100 percent of the time. However, when a person in a leadership position is unable to fully commit, it’s difficult for the team to feel motivated. It’s for this very reason that few things are more inspiring than unerring focus.

15. Vulnerability

The strongest people are unafraid to show their vulnerable side: they know that this only shows they are human. Vulnerability also helps leaders develop a connection with others. They are willing to request help when they need it, ask difficult questions, and express their opinions — even if they’re unsure that anyone will agree.

Expressing vulnerability gives team members the strength to do the same. Going forward, they are all able to work on their weaknesses together.

16. Accountability

Inspirational leaders are willing to hold themselves accountable for mistakes, even when they are not directly to blame. They recognize that, since they are responsible for the oversight of the team, they are accountable to some extent. They never allow their pride to interfere nor do they ever use a subordinate as a scapegoat.

17. Emotionally Healthy

You’ll never find inspirational leadership in someone who is a narcissist, who is jealous, or who overreacts. Those who are emotionally dysfunctional are unable to lead themselves, let alone others.

This isn’t to say that inspirational leaders have lived an easy life. Often, the complete opposite is true. Take, for example, Hayley Mulenda. She turned her pain into purpose and is now an international keynote speaker, teaching others to do the same.

18. Empathy

Many of the above qualities come down to empathy. Without empathy, it is impossible to lead a team, as only with empathy can you understand what motivates others. Inspirational leaders are aware that each individual is driven by something different and faces unique roadblocks. They use this awareness to push those they lead toward greatness.

Anyone can become an inspirational leader — you’re not born with inspirational leadership skills; you acquire them. If you want to be that force at your company, work on the above to develop the characteristics you’ll need to succeed. You should also implement an inspirational leadership model at your company to develop more such leaders who can continue taking your business forward.

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