What Makes an Inspiring Leader?

Key Characteristics from the World’s Greatest Business Leaders

In today’s business, inspiring leadership is the foreground of entrepreneurial success and innovation. Inspiring leadership drives employees and leaders alike to push beyond traditional business practices. It fosters inventive methods of communication, motivates employees to their utmost potential, and generates maximum revenue. According to data gathered by Harvard Business School from nearly 50,000 leaders, the ability to inspire results in the highest levels of employee engagement and commitment. Recent research conducted by Bain also showcases a strong correlation between inspiration and employee satisfaction and productivity.

Here are seven characteristics that define an inspiring leader.

1. They are emotionally intelligent

Inspiring leaders are masters of self-awareness. They control their emotions and are judiciously and empathetically apt at handling interpersonal relationships. They moralise compassion, empathy, cooperation, and mutual understanding. Inspiring leaders also hold a confident yet realistic assessment of their and others’ capabilities while maintaining a flexible and optimistic course of action. According to Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, compassion and empathy are the pillars of life. Inspired by Dalai Lama’s philosophy, Weiner embraces a warm and understanding atmosphere in everyday business. Despite his exceedingly tight schedule, he devotes 90 minutes of his daily time to coaching and conversing with his co-workers. He notes that this approach improves creativity and productivity, allowing him to manage his 14,000 employees better.


2. They possess optimal communication skills

Inspiring leaders are great listeners. They pay attention to others’ comments, ideas, and feelings and offer constructive feedback. Inspiring leaders are also highly passionate about their work. They give energy to others, assisting them in advancing their skills while maintaining a balanced ego and healthy assertiveness. Mark Zuckerberg, the mastermind behind Facebook, grew his business from a small startup to a company holding over 20,000 employees. Despite his staggering net worth and somewhat reserved persona, Zuckerberg’s approach to communication goes beyond the typical CEO-staff dynamic. He heavily opposes team meetings, as he opts for casual walks around the office where he chats with his employees and listens to their suggestions and ideas. He gives his employees the freedom to voice their opinions and offers constructive criticism. Zuckerberg believes this fosters inclusion and a sense of belonging in the company. His communication skills promote creativity and motivation.


3. They are assertive and confident

Assertiveness has long been hailed as the primary characteristic of a successful leader. Inspiring leaders advocate their vision and values most openly and directly. They foster alignment and conflict resolution by setting the appropriate group and individual expectations and orienting teams towards the most logical set of outcomes. Inspiring leaders are responsible and encouraging, for they create an enticing objective that builds confidence and fosters sign-up. Lawyer-turned-activist Reshma Saujani considers girl empowerment in technology as the primary precursor for eliminating the gender gap in the tech world. Through her non-profit organisation, Girls Who Code, Saujani hosts around 90,000 girls trained in IT and programming languages. As 40% of women are the primary breadwinners for their families, she believes that the traditional image of a programmer as “a boy in a hoodie in a basement” should be changed and that girls need to be taught to act bravely and not be afraid of failure. Saujani advocates for women’s empowerment and challenges the status quo by paving the way for others to participate in STEM actively. 


4. They possess a clear vision

Inspiring leaders are seekers of diverse perspectives. They demonstrate unparalleled curiosity, creativity, and receptivity to input. They are also known for their overarching goals and incomparable ambition. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, is well known for his visionary insight. He was able to turn a simple idea about e-commerce into a $1 trillion tech titan. Misunderstood for 20 years, Bezos’ vision never faltered as it is driven by the goal to change the way people shop. Today, and with endless innovations like Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited, and the purchase of The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos continues to reimagine how business impacts communication. His talent to picture a future that we have yet to see reminds us that inspiring leaders are firm believers in their bold visions.


5. They persevere during adversity

Inspiring leaders never quit. They push beyond any limitation and persevere during adversity. They stand up for their vision despite the failure they may face along the way. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is an excellent example of a leader who overcame adversity by never giving up. Musk was marred by constant failures and setbacks throughout his illustrious career, yet his belief in himself never wavered. 
Musk accepts failures as opportunities to learn. Developing new technology means that failure will happen. Failures, however, create the best opportunities to learn new things and always move forward. Recently, Musk was announced as the world’s wealthiest man, with a net worth topping $185 Billion.


6. They are transparent and honest

Transparency signals respect. Inspiring leaders who embrace positive transparency exhibit honesty and trust, building respect, cementing a sense of belonging, and eventually initiating loyalty.
 In the book “Employees First, Customers Second,” author Vineet Nayar explains that when leaders share both “good and bad information,” transparency births more trust. “Sometimes having a collective Achilles heel can inspire solutions from places and people you least expect them from,” he says.


7. They are modest

Inspiring leaders are rarely an image of opulence and wealth. Many opt for a more reserved life, far away from the spotlight. Lyft’s co-founder, Logan Green, is the primary example. Often noted for his modesty, and despite his astounding $300 million net worth, Green still prefers carpooling to get to work. On the other hand, CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs were never seen in designer clothing. Steve Jobs was famous for wearing plain jeans and turtlenecks for the entirety of his career as a tech mogul.

Inspirational leadership is essential to business growth and success. As Greg Savage illustrates in his article “People Don’t Leave Companies, They Leave Leaders”, employees do not leave a company blaming its location, team, or database. They leave their uninspiring leaders.

If a leader does not inspire their team to achieve greatness, they are not leaders. They are merely a manager.


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