What Leaders Actually Do to Inspire and Motivate

What Leaders Actually Do to Inspire and Motivate

BY MARCEL SCHWANTES Principal and founder, Leadership From the Core | Featured on Inc.com

Lets leave intellectual theory behind. These are the nuts and bolts of great leadership, and you can apply it starting today.

Back when I was doing the corporate grind, Bruce was the first boss (and my favorite to this day) that exposed me to the very practice of “Servant Leadership.” That’s how he led, and a decade later, I had the formula for a leadership training startup.

Here are a few things Bruce taught me on my own path to Servant Leadership:

  • Don’t take advantage of your title or positional power; instead, inspire others by making them feel like an equal.
  • Share the vision and decision-making with others. Make sure followers have a seat at the table in important decisions.
  • Provide followers with all the resources they need so they can become better leaders. When you do, you’re providing great leadership.

While he was still my “boss” and expectations of my performance were high, I recall how much more satisfied and engaged I felt than at any other time in my  young corporate career.

What was it about this professional relationship that worked out so well for me? It comes down to four leadership principles proven over time to build trust and loyalty in followers.

1. He facilitated a shared vision with his tribe.

Bruce communicated an image of the future that drew us all in. It spoke to what his team (my colleagues) saw and felt. After all, we signed up for the job.

As most MBA programs teach, great visions will answer these three questions:

  • Destination: Where are we going?
  • Purpose: Why do we exist? What greater good do we serve?
  • Values: What principles guide our decisions and actions on our journey?

When a vision addresses all three of these questions for team members, a tremendous amount of energy is unleashed.

And Bruce facilitated the answer to all three, encouraging us to contribute our ideas, insights and realities toward fulfilling the vision. As a result, our commitment level was consistently at a high-level.

2. He shared power and released control.

If you want to foster high trust, risk-taking, creativity and open communication, but you’re still riding on your autocratic high-horse and instilling fear, consider getting off for the higher road of sharing power and releasing control.

This means allowing the freedom for others to experiment, lead themselves, stretch, and make mistakes. This will unleash discretionary effort and your team will produce great results. That’s what happened to Bruce’s team.

3. He put people in positions to lead.

Instead of leveraging his positional power for personal gain, self-promotion or demands for special privileges, Bruce put his people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth and develop new strengths and roles.

The return on this investment was watching a leadership culture rise up. Many of us got promoted to leadership roles, filling key positions internally.

4. He pushed his authority down.

In highly effective organizations, there are leaders at every level, not just at the top. The solution is always to push authority down so you’re creating a leader-leader culture. This is what Bruce did exceptionally well.

In his book Turn the Ship Around, retired U.S. Navy Captain David Marquet documents how he transformed a ship under his command by challenging the U.S. Navy’s traditional leader-follower approach and pushing for leadership at every level.

As a result, his submarine skyrocketed from worst to first in the whole fleet because of his choice to give up control. The crew became fully engaged, contributing their intellectual capacity every day.

Now it’s your turn: What are some good examples of leaders who share leadership? How do they do it?


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