Who inspires you?
Maybe as a child, it was your teacher, your parents, or a sports hero. As an adult, you may be inspired by your peers, mentors, or famous innovators. Think about that person or persons. What about them did you find inspirational? Was it their positivity, enthusiasm, dedication, drive, or a myriad of other ways we can be inspired by others?
While I have been inspired by many people throughout my life, I’m going to begin with a sports legend who inspired me when I was a kid.
I loved playing Catholic Youth Organization basketball when I was in elementary school. Overall, I was an average player, but I struggled when it came to free throws. My free-throw percentage was embarrassingly low, and like clockwork, every time I stepped to the free-throw line, self-doubt took over. I was motivated to get better. I just didn’t know how to do that.
Then one day I was watching a Boston Celtics game, and the great Larry Bird was draining every free-throw attempt. I watched in awe and wished I could shoot like Bird. A couple of weeks later, I caught an interview with Bird who said his free-throw success was because after practice every day after everybody else had left, he took one hundred free-throw attempts. Of course, “practice, practice, practice” is the oldest advice in the book. What hooked me was Bird’s simple system. Bird didn’t have a coach at his heels telling him how to tweak his every shot. He didn’t pause and review his last shot. He just kept shooting free throws over and over and over again.
My only goal at the time I saw that Bird interview was to improve my free-throw shot—which I did, increasing it to 80 percent success within a month. But Bird also inspired my dedication to simple systems that are still with me today. We never know who we may inspire or what that inspiration will look like. Larry Bird certainly has no idea that he inspired a twelve-year-old to later leverage the concept of simple systems for tremendous business success—but we can all choose to lead in a way that opens the door to inspire others.
What makes a leader inspirational? While there is no finite list, the most common characteristics of inspirational leaders includes:
- Establishes a clear vision for the future.
- Sets clear goals and achieves them.
- Supports and challenges others to achieve their dreams and goals.
- Practices gratitude.
- Engages with enthusiasm and positivity.
- Builds trust.
Add to that list the characteristics of those who have inspired you. Now, think about how you can channel those characteristics to intentionally inspire others to lead.
Here are some best practices to inspire others to become better leaders.
Coaching is focused on the individual and drives at a specific goal through learning. For example, coaching someone to make a sales call, to level-up their leadership skills, or complete a twenty-yard pass.
Meet Amy, a seasoned executive who was on the brink of becoming a managing partner for a large consulting firm. Amy’s leadership skills had gotten her to the status of partner, but it was clear they weren’t going to get her to her goal of managing partner.
Amy could paint an incredible vision of where she wanted the firm to go, but her attitude with partners who weren’t up to her speed was to leave them behind. My job was to coach Amy on how to bring everyone along on her vision. When a colleague wasn’t working up to Amy’s speed, she would get frustrated, and we’d walk through the pros and cons of leaving that person behind or putting in the effort to help them reach the highest speed they were capable of.
Through regular coaching, Amy realized that she was not there to “fix” everyone; she was there to inspire everyone to work towards the common goals and vision the firm was aspiring to.
When you make the decision to coach, the impact will be immediate. Think of coaching as leadership and mentorship in a daily bite-sized serving.
Mentoring is volunteering to develop individuals to achieve their career goals and advancement, with nothing expected in return. I have been blessed with many mentors in my life, but I’m going to focus on the gift from one mentor.
Meet Gary F. who was one of those mentors and who knew how to connect the dots for me. One time, I asked Gary to meet with me so I could complain to him about a job I applied for and didn’t get even though I was more qualified. Gary just looked at me and said, “I agree. Everything you’ve said is true, but why do you want that dead-end job?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, “It’s a promotion.”
“Yes, a promotion into a dead industry. That industry grows at 2 percent a year. Wait for a better opportunity.”
At that time, I didn’t see the big picture. I just saw a lost promotion. A year later, a better opportunity came along, and I was excited to tell Gary that I got it.
“Just imagine if you had got that other promotion,” he said, “you wouldn’t have been a candidate for this position.”
I’m forever grateful for Gary’s patience and wisdom. This was only one of the many ways in which he offered me guidance, but this particular instance only required a quick conversation on Gary’s part. A conversation that would change the trajectory of my life.
Years later, I would mentor a young executive in much the same way. Helping him to look at his long-term goals from a different perspective has yielded more success than he could have imagined.
Slow down and take quality time to invest in those around you. Look around your circle of friends, family members, and colleagues. Who could you offer to take under your wing and send down the path of leadership?
When you recognize and support the potential of others, when you lead by encouraging others to do good, to serve, and to be leaders, they in turn, are inspired to do the same.
Meet Tye Kuhlman. I first learned about Tye in my leadership meetings in my role as CEO. Now, Tye didn’t have a leadership title, so he wasn’t in those meetings, but his name kept coming up. No matter what was being discussed, at some point, an executive would say, “Let me check with Tye.”
If you truly want to cultivate leadership in your organization, you pay attention and you seize the opportunity to elevate those around you. It wasn’t long after I met Tye that he joined the leadership team. Not everyone on the team was comfortable with adding an account manager to the table, but Tye absolutely deserved to be there, and it was an opportunity to put our leadership culture into action.
Within the company, Tye went from account manager to director to vice president. The titles didn’t make him a leader—he was already leading—but moving into an executive position provided him the opportunity to motivate, inspire, and lead even more people to make great things happen.
When you inspire one person to lead, you inspire many. Who will you inspire today?