By Jim Funk
The Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, were totally inspiring to me. Watching the Shib Sibs glide and dance across the ice in expressive and unified harmony, cheering on Lyndsey Vonn as she sped down the mountain at over 80 mph in her final Olympic Games, and noticing my heart racing as the bobsled teams careened down the icy track. All of these events and more were amazing feats of athleticism, and they were undeniably inspiring.
But what was it that made them inspiring? To me, it was first and foremost witnessing the awesome capability that each Olympian had developed through years of practice, coaching and persistence. But more than that, it was the stories behind each of the competitors. In every case these athletes had to overcome setbacks and failings, injuries or illnesses, and in the case of Paralympic athletes, conditions that could have prevented them from even leaving the house or driving a car. Yet look at what they were able to accomplish through their tenacity and sheer will. These athletes show that to be inspiring to others, you must be inspired yourself.
So what is it that makes leaders inspired? Do they have to be as competent and persistent as Olympic champions, overcoming incredible challenges and going beyond what seems humanly possible? Leaders who have done that to varying degrees can certainly be inspired through their experiences. But it’s more than that. I believe leaders are inspired through the process of becoming who they are as a person—their characteristics, values and behaviors. When a person is willing to be honest about his or her shortcomings and vulnerabilities, for example, humility is developed. Having the courage to admit faults and overcome them helps build character and become authentic—true to who they are.
Inspired leaders also know they don’t have all the answers, which causes them to seek what they need to make good and wise decisions. Sometimes this comes in the form of patience while they gather information, or they may ask for the opinions of others who have more expertise. With trust in the people around them to use their own talents, as well as to provide honest feedback to the leader, they go forward and take actions they believe to be prudent, and they take reasonable risks. They know that if they fail it won’t be the end of the world. In fact, when things don’t go as they hoped, they learn from their mistakes and become even better.
Inspired leaders are also hopeful. They see the glass half full, and know that even in the darkest of times there is light to be found. In spite of difficulties, they remain positive and believe they will somehow be able to figure out a workable solution. They believe that all will be well, or at least as good as possible under the circumstances.
What makes an inspired leader inspiring to others? In my experience working with leaders who I considered inspired, there were four main areas of inspiration for me:
- Functional Leadership Competence. Capable leaders build the trust of others because they are able to deliver. They know what they are doing, and they know to engage other talented people in what they don’t know how to do.
- Mental and Thinking Competence. These leaders are able to learn and assimilate new information quickly, think critically, and apply their knowledge to solve complex problems. They are good decision-makers, and they are skilled at persuading others.
- Heart and Spirit Competence. This area represents who the leader is as a person—the values, virtues, and character strengths that inform decisions, actions, intent and authenticity. Integrity, initiative, and the ability to build and maintain strong and positive relationships fall into this category.
- Physical Competence. I am referring here to the physical presence of the leader. This includes how they communicate and listen, what kind of impression they make on others, and their self-awareness. Along with heart and spirit competence, physical competence can either foster a sense of authenticity and trust on the part of others, or it can create distrust if it’s missing.
To me, these competency areas hold the critical leadership behaviors and awareness that enable leaders to inspire others. It is not only what they do, but who they are, that inspires followership and engagement.
Inspired leadership is one of the nine characteristics I have defined in my Holistic Leadership Model. Holistic Leaders embody the competency areas I listed above, and they do so with inspiration. Holistic leaders know how to integrate their character and values into their leadership, and they understand that they bring their whole selves to their leadership role—body, mind and spirit.
How does one become an inspired leader? I would suggest starting with three questions to reflect on, followed by actions that help build inspired leadership.
- How willing am I to look critically at myself, and open myself up to honest feedback and self-awareness that will help me discover areas where I need to grow—the characteristics, habits and behaviors I need to change if I want to inspire others?
- How open am I to learning from other inspired leaders to understand how they got that way—perhaps through coaching, mentoring, studying and reading?
- Am I willing to create a concrete plan of action, identifying what I can do to build the competencies and behaviors of an inspired leader—acknowledging that it requires a lifetime of learning and continued formation and development?
Let me conclude by saying that I don’t think being an inspired leader is optional. Inspired and Holistic Leadership is truly needed to navigate the complex relationships and responsibilities of leaders in the world today, whether in a small company, a large global enterprise, an educational institution, or a governmental entity. The question is, are you willing to make the effort to move outside of your comfort zone, to be a life-long learner and become what the world truly needs: an inspired, holistic leader? Take a lesson from the Olympians. It requires commitment, focus, practice, persistence, willingness to fail, and continuous improvement. Are you up for it?
Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org