September 5, 2013
Want To Be An Inspiring Leader? Get Inspired.

Lots of people who take my programs want to be inspiring leaders.

Many companies want to know how they can develop inspiring leaders.

Inspiration is now officially in. I have even seen advertisements for senior executives that advise candidates that the ability to inspire the troops is a requirement. Executives have to be able to ‘motivate’ the dispirited.

I have some sincere advice for you if you want to become an inspiring leader.

Don’t even try.

I am not being facetious. In fact, I am dead serious.

The problem with wanting to become an inspiring leader is where the emphasis lies. The focus is on “I want” which means it is inherently me-centered. It is all about you, your needs, your ambitions, what you want to get out of life..

True, if you are halfway smart you learn to disguise this pretty well. You talk in terms of others and how you can help them get what they want. But it is a veneer.

This is such an accepted part of life in the modern workplace that you will never be challenged and may even be applauded. Everybody moves to the beat of this drummer.

But you can do better. Much better.

The first step to becoming an inspiring leader is to forget about becoming an inspiring leader and be inspired. Find a cause that brings stars into your eyes and a greater good to a greater community. This does not require you to find a new job. It does require you to redefine what you do so that you are building a cathedral, not breaking rocks.

A friend of mine is a Harvard lawyer and worked for a pittance in the US attorney’s office prosecuting large financial institutions for sundry abuses including front-running client orders and trading after close of market. He put in enormously long hours and faced brutal battles with the top securities partners at major law firms.

He prevailed. And mutual funds agreed not to do it again and made changes that decreased the load they charged.

When I asked him why he did it and what he got out of it his eyes lit up. “Srikumar, as a result of the settlement we just reached millions of families will have xx dollars more per month at retirement. Isn’t that worth fighting for?”

If he had defined what he did in terms of going through mountains of trading records and company documents to find vanishingly slim evidence of wrongdoing so he could bring about a winning case, he would have burnt out long ago.

What is the cathedral you are building? You are the only person who can define this and live in that knowledge.

Now here is the nub: When you learn to communicate your vision, show others how the cathedral you are building will help many, then you become an inspiring leader by default. Persons who come into your orbit will become inspired because they cannot help it. And many will follow you.

Viktor Frankl said, “Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”

Becoming a truly inspiring leader is like that. It is not a volitional goal. It is a by-product of being personally inspired and being able to communicate that vision clearly and persuasively.

When Gandhi started his work in South Africa he did not set out to be an inspiring leader or to collect millions of followers. His goal was different. “The passport laws are unjust and I will not let them stand.”

He was a British trained attorney and used his verbal fluency and other skills to mobilize support for this cause and, in the process, he did become an inspiring leader.

Go thou, and do likewise.

Srikumar Rao
Srikumar Rao is a TED speaker and author of the business bestseller Happiness at Work. His course Creativity and Personal Mastery was among the most popular at many of the world’s top business schools. Dr. Rao has been extraordinarily successful in using group dynamics to foster lasting personal change. Many who have been through Dr. Rao’s program experience quantum leaps in their professional and personal effectiveness.

Other Articles by Srikumar Rao:

How CEOs Can Use A Simple, But Effective Way To Resolve Conflict

Why You Should Get Ahead Of The Curve In Diversity Hiring

CEOs Who Serve The Public Good

Diversity Is Not Just A Buzzword

Lying Is Not A Business Strategy

Why ‘Top’ Candidates Could Ruin Your Company

Don’t ‘Hire’ Employees – Adopt Them

How To Be Authentically Upbeat

How To Reach A Higher Level Of Customer Service

This Is How Founders Should Cut Their Pies