Another Mark of a True Leader: The Ability to Inspire Others

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May 14, 2015

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that you can’t just declare yourself a leader and expect others to follow.

True leaders inspire others to find the best in themselves to work together to accomplish a goal. And true leaders can be anyone, at any level, not just those that carry a “manager” title.

Today, I’d like to share the perspectives of two such true leaders on this topic. (Emphasis in the quotations is mine.)

To truly lead, people need to follow

First, from Martin Craighead, Chairman and CEO of Baker Hughes, from his discussion with attendees at the Young Professionals in Energy (YPE) event during the 2015 Offshore Technology Conference:

There’s no substitute for being a rock star at your chosen area of expertise or functional area, but advancement today going forward requires more. It’s tremendously important to develop your people expertise, or cultural quotient (CQ) – how well you interact with people in general – in particular, people who come from very different places and practice very different cultural norms. Your EQ (emotional quotient) and CQ will ultimately determine your influence management skills and to a large extent, your effectiveness as a leader, particularly during challenging times. Leadership only occurs if people are willing to follow.”

And from Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways and founder of Peterson Partners, in a recent New York Times “Corner Office” column:

It wasn’t about me saying, ‘I want to be the leader.’ If you get people rallying around a cause or something that needs to be done, you end up leading that cause, whether you want to or not… For me, a lot of it is listening. I’m a really good listener. It’s not a technique — I’m really interested in what people have to say. But it does develop trust as a byproduct. If you’re authentic, open, you call things as they are, you really are direct and you listen well, that develops trust.”

3 reasons people follow a leader

Both of these insights also highlight three key reasons why people choose to follow a person they’ve deemed to be a leader:

  1. Understanding – True leaders seek first to understand those with whom they work closely. What matters most them? What unique perspectives do they bring based on their own cultural norms? How might these differences influence broader, more impactful thinking?
  2. Listening – True leaders know they cannot lead in a vacuum. They need the knowledge, passion and insight brought by others. What drives them? Why are they involved in this initiative? Why do they care?
  3. Trust – True leaders know trust is a two-way street. People do not follow those they do not trust. And leaders cannot lead those to whom they cannot delegate. What assurances do people need? How are their needs acknowledged and incorporated?

How else do true leaders inspire others to follow?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.