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Part IV: The Methods Of Inspiring Inner Leadership

Chapter List

Chapter 15: Method 12: Being Inspiring

Chapter 16: Method 13: Persuading Others

Chapter 17: Method 14: Using Humor

Part Overview

Inner leaders use psychological and ideological symbols to inspire others. To inspire is to stop questions or doubt and to impel people to change without thinking. There is an extrarational quality about inspiration. It goes beyond facts by putting into words people's dreams and hopes and giving them a sense of purpose (Bilchik). It is not motivation but another distinctive set of skills and attributes that goes beyond motivation's market-exchange theory - getting something for giving something - and engages the heart and mind as well.

Motivation theory is based on material rewards. It involves tangible benefits received in trade for designated performance. Sometimes the rewards dispensed are associated with the psychological well-being desires of followers such as recognition, affiliation, or status. Generally speaking, motivation can be described as an external exchange transaction between leader and follower where each gives something the other wants and receives something of value in return. However, the fact is that leaders are in the middle of the organization and do not normally control the range of resources under the CEO's control with which they can structure these material motivational exchanges. They have to rely more on the intangible technique of inspiration to secure follower compliance.

Inner leaders do not rely solely on authoritarian forms of leader–follower interaction, favoring indirection and subtlety and inspiration and logical argument. These leaders find they must use exposition and persuasion to convince others of the utility of their values, ideas, and goals and win them over to their point of view. Skill in persuasive communication is an important technique inner leaders use (Gareau). They also use humor to help their followers bond into a cohesive work community, one that values each member and that differentiates those included in the work community from all others (Santovec). Inner leaders use humor to direct follower attention to what they want them to think about and divert their attention from what they don't want. Humor is a powerful tool and is part of effective leadership (Avolio, Howell, and Sosik).

The three techniques highlighted in Part IV define tasks associated with animating, enlivening, invigorating, and infecting coworkers - in a word, inspiring them. Part IV techniques are not often included in discussions about leadership theory and practice. The three techniques in this part include being inspiring, learning to persuade others, and using humor.

Chapter 15: Method 12: Being Inspiring

Inspiration is a key, if complex, tool in the hands of inner leaders (Bilchik). These leaders find opportunity to use the technique of inspiration frequently. While inspiration has always been either an actual or a potential tool in leadership, it is a relatively new concept in the literature. It is a powerful tool to reenergize followers and to bond them together in the joint enterprise. It is a tool that top leaders may also use, but often don't. The reason top leaders do not use inspiration is that it is frequently difficult to do. They can more easily employ motivation, a more physical, tangible method to secure follower compliance. Nevertheless, inspiration is a powerful weapon in the inner leader's arsenal (Fairholm).

Defining Inspiration

Simply put, inspiration is using words, ideas, information, and deeds to convey a sense of connection, excitement, and commitment to work-community goals or methods. When people feel inspired they want to act on that feeling. Inspiration is not motivation. It goes beyond motivation in appealing to a collective human need to be part of and engaged with others in lofty enterprise. Inspiring leaders strengthen coworkers, teach, and exhort them toward a common vision of what the work community is and can become. They tap something deep within the individual that strikes a responsive chord.

We now live in a world where interdependence, not dependence, is the mode (Lombardi). It is a world of uncertainty, not order; of negotiation, not edicts; of persuasion, not command. This kind of a world demands leadership, not management. The need is for leaders who will use their power to empower others. Today's corporations need leaders who can change workers' behaviors while staying in tune with their values. They need logic guided by intuition (Tesolin). The work communities in which people spend their time need someone to give voice to a vision of the future that exists now, if unstated, in the minds of followers. In short, they need inspiring inner leaders.

Inspiration is the name for that kind of influence that operates upon our minds so that we receive direction in extrarational ways (Roberts). Inspirational leaders have high self-confidence, dominance, and a conviction of moral rightness. They transfer these qualities to followers (see Bass; Peters and Waterman; Maccoby; Burns). Operationally, inspiration is defined by several emotional results (Burns).

These definitional elements of inspiration imply several ideas. First, inspiration involves a confirmation in the hearts of believers that the work community's common message (vision) is true. Second, it provides guidance for individual believers in their community relationships. Third, inspiration is a means to gain full understanding of an inspiring future vision. Fourth, via the inspirational messages, believers can have communion with other believers and form links to other like-minded people. Fifth, inspiration impels one to do good, toward excellence. Sixth, it carries with it a feeling of rightness. And finally, inspiration has a teaching component - it is a way to teach others.

Inspiration is what many mistakenly call motivation (Lombardi). They confuse the inspirational, emotional element in some leader behavior for motivation from without.

Traditionally, the task of getting others to comply has been called motivation, and an extensive theory and methodology have evolved encompassing the leader's tasks in causing directed change in others. Unfortunately, this theory and practice are largely wrong. The fact is that leaders cannot motivate followers - no person external to the individual can. Motives come from within the person; they are internal to each individual and directed by that individual. Leaders have little to do with creating motives. In short, all motivation is personal, done by the individual in response to his or her own values drives.

Another person - leader, manager, friend, or colleague - cannot motivate anyone. He or she does something else. When someone else, through his or her behavior, actions, or words, induces the individual to act, he or she can do so only via one or a combination of three approaches. He or she can create or alter an environment within which the individual can satisfy his or her own needs while (hopefully) also doing corporate work. Or he or she can do something to awaken a dormant motive or change the priority of someone's values motives to action. Or he or she can excite and inspire the other person to action to satisfy by that action his or her needs and, optimistically, the work community's.

CEOs and other managers, those in control of corporate resources, can induce follower action most easily by resort to approaches one or two. Inner leaders find that the third approach - inspiration - is most often the best approach available to them and that it is frequently a powerful inducement to stakeholder action. Inspiration, is an emotional appeal from one person to another. It is external excitation to action of another person, but it is not technically motivation because there is an element of coercion in motivation.

Assuming the accuracy of this reasoning, leaders cannot "motivate" others. All they can do is create a climate and the conditions within which others can find ways to self-motivate within parameters they set. Inner leaders can also interact with followers individually to help them see that some of their own motives, if satisfied through work community effort, can result in greater overall satisfaction than relying on their own current motives. That is, an inner leader can ask a follower to complete a difficult (or new, or creative) task, and through that effort the follower comes to realize that this work satisfies a new motive, and satisfying this need may be more rewarding to him or her than the one he or she currently spends effort in satisfying. Beyond this, motivation has little meaning as a leader technique.

Some of the inspiration techniques of inner leadership follow.

Methods Of Inspiration

Chief executives are adept at ensuring that a corporation produces tangible things remarkably well. They are less adept at producing inspired people. Bosses control things, but they cannot "control" people into the commitment necessary to accept the risks of (for example) battle or any other significant social enterprise. This is in direct contrast to inner leaders whose purpose is to inspire volunteer followers to common action whether or not the leader is present to oversee behavior. These leaders are inspirational. They enliven and animate others and impel their people to act without thinking. They override sterile fact and put words to people's dreams and hopes. Inspiration gives our dreams purpose and direction (Lombardi). It articulates the felt needs, values, and visions of the work community and its individual members. It is fundamentally a power - empowering - activity.

Inspiration is a particular relationship between an individual leader and one or more others that enlivens both and provides them with new insight, new emotions, and new directions (Bilchik). Inspiration is not so much a quality in the leader (the inspirer) as it is a function of the needs of the inspired that the inner leader reflects and responds to. Inner leaders find useful insights, therefore, as they learn first something of the nature of followership. Several aspects of inspiration can be identified to help the inner leader operationalize this technique in his or her day-to-day work. Among them are the following. Inspiration

  1. connects ideas to action.

  2. is a highly emotional and personal experience.

  3. promotes the development of people's talents.

  4. enables others to feel and act as leaders.

  5. helps people recognize the contributions of others.

  6. stimulates others' thinking.

  7. builds enthusiasm about projects and assignments.

  8. is facilitated by the use of symbols.

  9. appeals to collective work community history.

  10. addresses people's psychological and emotional needs.

  11. articulates people's dreams.

  12. creates consensus.

Key Ideas in Inspiration

Developing the skills to inspire others is a matter of the leader's overall leadership philosophy. Inner leaders cannot compel compliance from their stakeholders because all followers are essentially volunteers. How they inspire followers to follow them is a critical technique inner leaders need to master. Inspiring others involves several tasks, the dimensions of which constitute the technique of inspirational leadership. Some of these techniques follow (Plas; Tesolin; Fairholm).

Provide a Sense of Purpose

Inspiration is activating the felt needs, values, and aspirations of the work community (Bilchik). The mechanism for inspiring a shared sense of purpose often is a common vision of what the work community is and can become. An inspiring vision includes three key elements:

  1. Purpose: the fundamental set of reasons for the work community's existence.

  2. Mission: an achievable focal point and goal aligning subgroup effort with the full work community.

  3. Focus on the future: creating the future by doing or acting in the present with that future in mind.

A vision by its very nature implies a creative tension and a sense of anticipation - both essential aspects of any inspirational idea, situation, or individual persona. Inspirational leaders focus their stakeholders on the present, as well as what must happen to arrive at the desired future. Inspiration comes as inner leaders help followers see the vision as real for them today, while not yet having arrived at that future state of being (Ramsey).

Articulating Common Needs

The connection between the inner leader's vision and the personal psychological needs of followers is the essence of inspiration. Leaders are inspiring precisely because what they say impels another person to do something the leader wants and that also helps satisfy that person's personal needs. As inner leaders learn and then appropriately respond to their followers' needs, they trigger constructive psychological responses in members that facilitate commitment to the work community's tasks.

Many needs are present in any work community. Some needs are for affiliation. Others are for achievement or to exert power in relationships. All can be met through work-community involvement. Inner leaders find ways to help their followers understand these needs - and other needs - and help them develop expectations and find ways to assuage them through working in the work community.

Stopping Doubt

Inspiration appeals to the emotions of followers and causes them to come together in the common enterprise ("The Greatest Motivators of the Century,"). Inspirational messages are a way for the believer to have communion with other believers (Tesolin) and impel them toward excellence. They bring with them a feeling of rightness, correctness about what they do. They stop any feelings of doubt a follower may have about doing assigned work or holding suitable attitudes and values.

Articulating Follower Dreams

Inspiration consists of a confirmation in the hearts of followers that the common vision is true (Roberts). Inner leaders are inspiring when they take other persons beyond routine ways of thinking and behaving and lead them to higher level of interaction and focus (Fairholm) consistent with their sense of spiritual integrity.

Helping Followers Act without Thinking

Inspirational messages are often found in the communications leaders make to followers. An obvious such message is the inner leader's vision statement. As followers accept the vision's goals, values, and ideals, this decision lets them act automatically in terms of it. They don't have to think through or rationalize each new situation any more. The vision clarifies the situation and dictates a course of action. An accepted inspiring message puts adherents in a kind of auto-pilot that makes future actions known, good, and simple. A vision states and dramatizes the purposes of the leader and reflects the system of beliefs that give the leader–follower relationship texture and coherence. Inspirational messages use distinctive language (Braham) to define roles, activities, challenges, and purposes. They are seldom, if ever, couched in explicit terms. Rather, they create patterns of meanings and consciousness reflected in the leader's relationship with followers. These messages raise the consciousness level of the stakeholder work community. They are a potent mechanism for directing and influencing others.

Using Symbols and Ideology

Leaders are symbol users. Bennis says that leadership becomes effective when individuals place symbolic value on the leader's expressed intentions. To inspire followers, the leader must appeal to them on a different level than mere physical drives. This appeal is often conveyed via symbols standing for the shared values and vision of the work community developed over time ("The Greatest Motivators,").

Using Intuitive Faculties

Inspiration and intuition are connected in real ways. Intuition defines a way to receive knowledge and information without conscious, rational thought (Rowan). In using inspiration, inner leaders tap their own and the intuitive capacities of work community members. Inspiration is the almost intuitive appeal to innate follower values that inspires them to accept the leader and his or her vision and that gives the leader moral legitimacy (Tesolin). Tesolin says fostering intuition goes beyond intelligence. It lies in the ability of inner leaders to use their intuitive sense, which is closely aligned with common sense. Intelligence involves a wide range of people skills, including communication and creativity. On the other hand, intuition entails a deep level of self-knowledge and listening, irrespective of reality or social and cultural conditioning. Through intuition we learn what is right, how to live and work with integrity, and how to express our truest selves.

Using Emotional Appeal

Inspiration goes beyond facts by giving them an emotional connection to the leader, the work community, and the task.

Enlightening Followers

Both leaders and led share responsibility for communicating clearly (Townsend and Gebhardt) the joint activity. In inspiring followers, inner leaders make sure that followers know details both of the job and of their personal preferences. Inspiring leaders transfer understanding to their followers by example and by giving personal attention to each follower to make certain he or she knows his or her part in the overall work plan.

Serving Others

Hard work by itself is not as important any more (perhaps it never was) as is making a positive impact on results. Success is increasingly defined today as giving the customers and all stakeholders particular service, rather than producing a standard product at continuously lowered unit cost and forcing them to take it. Inspiring inner leaders reinvent their work communities (Naisbitt and Aburdene) and their workers and systems to make them service oriented. This service focus itself is inspiring and is the basis for much workplace inspiration.

Maintaining Open Communications

To be inspiring, inner leaders also must be able to clearly communicate with a growingly diverse group of stakeholders, each of whom desires unique services and attention. When information is not forthcoming, conscientious followers seek it out. Just as inner leaders need to keep their bosses informed, they need to communicate broadly with their followers useful information about both the internal and external job situation. Similarly, followers must keep their leader informed about details of their piece of the work. Often followers are better informed about issues such as the team's current capabilities for meeting customer demands than the inner leader (Townsend and Gebhardt). Effective leaders need such information, and good inner leaders have learned to ask for it if it is not offered. Effective inner leaders take steps to ensure that needed communications flow in all possible directions at all times. Ensuring this flow is a prime task.

Building Culture

Inspiration is more a function of the readiness of the work community member than of the leader. Creating a culture characterized by multiple layers of shared values is, therefore, essential. The culture is the physical and psychological place where the leader inspires followers. It defines the climate and conditions within which the leaders personal needs and particular personal needs of the core of followers can be juxtaposed in ways that let each satisfy the other. The culture provides a broad basis of consensus around core values, the vision guiding work community, and individual actions and the ways members can and should interact with one another. A central task inner leaders accept is to create the conditions in the work community surroundings that ease the task of inspiring followers to accept and act upon their (the leader's) vision, values, and strategic plans.

Building Individual Loyalty and Commitment

Loyalty, like other personal, intimate feelings, is caused by a myriad factors. Among the obvious contributing factors to developing or to reducing loyalty include changing social values respecting work. If workers are unwilling to prioritize work higher than other personal or family issues or they practice lifestyles that emphasize values other than work uses of their time, their loyalty quotient falls. The emergence of a highly independent society is also a critical factor in determining group and individual loyalty. Morale factors such as job eliminations, restructuring, downsizing, and mergers likewise impact the loyalty quotient, often negatively. Leader indifference, breaking of commitments, arbitrary actions, lack of opportunity to earn promotions or grow on the job, and poor supervision are also conditioning factors. Loyalty suffers when their leaders show favoritism, are discriminatory, fail to recognize outstanding follower performance, or are authoritarian. Factors like low pay, unfair salary programs, and seniority-based raises, of course, also affect loyalty or disloyalty.

Fostering Trust

Experience and observation suggest that inspiration is delimited by the nature and extent of member trust. Unfortunately, none of the traditional theories of culture and trust clearly defines trust as an essential element in the cultural surround. (One exception is Fairholm) Yet trust is central in understanding the pull of culture on individual member actions. The culture created allows members to behave with varying levels of trust that certain actions or events will produce expected results. This kind of trust culture is a component of inspiration. One culture may allow for more trust than another, but without the constraints on member behavior to trust each other imposed by cultural features neither leaders nor any member could exercise inspiration at all.

Setting Values

Understanding the techniques of inspiration in leadership in today's world requires examination of shared values. Leadership, at its heart, is a value-laden activity. People may need to be ordered and directed, but they must be inspired also. Creating and promulgating a unique set of values that support the inner leader's agenda is, therefore, a major task underlying his or her success in inspiring follower to desired action (Crosby). Leadership models that forgo values because values contaminate the objective process fail to understand the true function of leadership.

Foster Change

Inspirational leaders inspire stakeholders to accept, even seek, change (Lombardi). They do this as they engage in actions to replace traditional controls and substitute an inspired vision, leading by example and being involved, visible leaders. An inspired vision is one that challenges, excites, one that captures followers' hearts and spirit, as well as their minds (Bolman and Deal).


The inspirational actions or words of the inner leader are inspiring precisely because they clarify and animate what followers already know in their hearts. The reason we describe the leader's vision as a vision is that leaders put into words the hopes and dreams of followers that are already in their hearts (Conger). If the inner leader's vision does not persuasively articulate the latent dreams shared by all or most followers, the leader's vision cannot be compelling. Visions become inspiring because of this and because leaders have somehow touched powerful values, emotions, and desires shared by members of the work community. Leaders interpret the community vision in unique ways consistent with both the group's tasks and its history. As they do this, if the leader's vision appeals to follower needs, the vision statement becomes inspirational.

Discussion Issues And Questions


  1. Motivation is based on material rewards and involves physical - material - benefits received in trade for designated performance.

  2. The only true motivation is self-motivation. Others cannot motivate anyone. They do something else. They inspire.

  3. Inspiration, based on shared ideas or ideals, is based on the leader's character, values, ideals, vision, and similar intangibles.

  4. Inspiration is using words, ideas, and deeds to convey a sense of connection, excitement, and shared commitment to work-community goals or methods.

  5. Inspiring others asks leaders to use more-than-rational means to persuade followers.


  1. Do I encourage teamwork, inspire cooperation, mentor, and otherwise shape member behavior to agreed-upon goals often via one-on-one relationships?

  2. Am I inspiring?

  3. Do I take steps to confirm in coworkers' hearts guidance about work-community values, a full understanding of the work community's vision, and ways to communicate with other like-minded workers?

  4. Do I convey a feeling of rightness about our joint work?

Inspirational Leadership Learning Activities

Activity 1: Self-Assessment - Inspiration Quotient

Instructions. Indicate the degree to which you think the following statements are true or false by circling the appropriate number. For example, if a statement is always true, you should circle the 5 next to that statement.

5 = Always true

4 = Generally true

3 = Somewhat true, but with exceptions

2 = Somewhat false, but with exceptions

1 = Generally false

0 = Certainly always false

5  4  3  2  1  0

1. In social situations I have the ability to alter my behavior if I feel that something else is called for.

5  4  3  2  1  0

2. I am often able to read people's true emotions correctly through their eyes.

5  4  3  2  1  0

3. I have the ability to control the way I come across to people, depending on the impression I wish to give them.

5  4  3  2  1  0

4. In conversations, I am sensitive to even the slightest change in the facial expression of the person I'm conversing with.

5  4  3  2  1  0

5. My powers of intuition are quite good when it comes to understanding others' emotions and motives.

5  4  3  2  1  0

6. I can usually tell when others consider a joke in bad taste, even though they may laugh convincingly.

5  4  3  2  1  0

7. When I feel that the image I am portraying isn't working, I can readily change it to something that does.

5  4  3  2  1  0

8. I can usually tell when I've said something inappropriate by reading the listener's eyes.

5  4  3  2  1  0

9. I have trouble changing my behavior to suit different people and different situations.

5  4  3  2  1  0

10. I have found that I can adjust my behavior to meet the requirements of any situation I find myself in.

5  4  3  2  1  0

11. If someone is lying to me, I usually know it at once from the person's manner of expression.

5  4  3  2  1  0

12. Even when it might be to my advantage, I have difficulty putting up a good front.

5  4  3  2  1  0

13. Once I know what the situation calls for, it's easy for me to regulate my actions accordingly.

Scoring key: To obtain your score, add up the numbers circled, except reverse the scores for questions 9 and 12. On those, a circled 5 becomes 0, 4 becomes 1, and so forth. Inspirational leaders are defined as those with score of approximately 53 or higher.

Activity 2: Inspiring Ideas about Inspiration

Instructions. Inspiration is a word most commonly used in religion and the arts to describe a wave of emotional stimulation. Its use in leadership is less common.

  1. Review the following quotations.

    A leader inspires his staff to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed long before they recognize their own potential.
    Sherman Hamilton

    Leaders get followers to reach beyond themselves. The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
    Henry Kissinger

    True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not for the enrichment of the leaders. In combat, officers eat last.

    The institutional leader is primarily an expert in the promotion and protection of values.
    Philip Selznick

    Leadership is the ability to decide what is to be done and then to get others to want to do it.
    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    The extraordinary appeal of Mao Tse-tung is hard to identify. Some may suggest that it lies less in the man and more in the nature of the Chinese society, for the Chinese do seem compelled to make all their leaders into imperial figures.
    Lucian W. Pye

    Churchill had learned the great truth that to move other people, the leader must first move himself.
    Sir Robert Menzies

  2. Study these quotations and assess their implications for being an inspiring leader. What can you learn about how to inspire others by applying these statements to your practice of leadership?

  3. Write an explanatory essay that summarizes your conclusions.

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